Plausible and implausible use cases for payment adoption in Southeast Asia

In Part 1, we discussed why we couldn’t exactly replicate Alipay and Wechat in Southeast Asia.

Here in Part 2 of the series, we will explore use cases that are more likely to support and sustain cashless mobile payment in the region.

One booming area for e-payment is in ride-hailing apps-  one of the most frequently used app.  

The success of WeChat leveraging ride-hailing company Didi to propagate its payment solution is certainly inspiring. Ride-hailing offers some good traits: inherently mobile, indispensable for many, broad coverage, high frequency, with instant transactions and low ticket size.

The two ride-hailing giants in Southeast Asia are both positioning themselves as payment companies. The strategy is simple: acquire users through discounts on ride-hailing service, meanwhile, develop the tech, risk management etc. to be able to open up to third-party merchants:


Go-Jek is no doubt leading the race. Their payment solution, GoPay, has transformed their 300,000 drivers to an omnipresent teller network. Users can transfer credits among themselves as well.

On 8th April, GoPay announced that users can transfer money to each other

Previously the company expected to open the system up to third-party merchants through gateways including Doku and MidTrans by July this year. There seems to be a bit of delay since.

Many mobile and internet-based businesses in Indonesia are indeed looking forward to the launch, which will potentially solve their big headache of collecting payment quickly and ad low cost.

Although they are ahead of Grab in many operational aspects, GoPay is at the moment limited to Indonesia. Nonetheless, with Tencent investing and the expertise that is being developed, one should not be surprised if GoPay one day spills over to another major Southeast Asian country.


Compared to Go-Jek, GrabPay’s progress is rather slow, both technologically and operationally. They are experimenting with some merchants at the moment – though still a long way until they are ready for a full-blown rollout.

Maybe they are not in a hurry at all. Now Softbank and Didi collectively own a controlling stake in the company, they have an almost unlimited arsenal. Their focus at present, probably, is to finish off Uber, one way or another, and then take their time to cultivate the payment market in the region.

Outside ride-hailing

What are the opportunities outside ride-hailing? E-commerce? Gaming?

Well, we do not see any promising e-commerce or gaming use cases that could foster a prevalent mobile payment application.

Very simple facts: in the region e-commerce still has a pretty low frequency of usage, and gaming, albeit frequent, is limited to a relatively small group of audience.

“Touch N Go”

There are, however, some great use cases that are being wasted. A typical example is Touch N Go – the payment system used for road tolls in Malaysia.

Touch n Go is widely used in Malaysia

Why do we think it is a great use case? Well, a high percentage of Malaysians drive, and toll gates are everywhere – so whoever that can afford a car (ideal target audience) would use Touch N Go multiple times a day.

Alibaba saw this opportunity as well and invested in the company. Alas, turning a company that has a fat cash cow into someone truly innovative for bigger (albeit uncertain) opportunity is never an easy undertaking.

In a way, the same could be said about a couple of mass transit payment systems in the region. We would expect EzLink in Singapore to be at least accepted at the merchants at MRT stations. Even that did not happen – there is a long story of politics and frustration behind it, which we might write about in the future. But for now, an opportunity squarely missed.


Interestingly, there are also the brave ones who strive to achieve things that have never been done. One team that is building a wallet system without its own use case is BluePay, a team from China operating out of Thailand.   

Whether they can succeed or not remains to be seen – we are nonetheless impressed with the team’s speed and aggressiveness.

How about the big guys? The governments and the giants such as Alibaba and Tencent? We will discuss them in Part 3, the final installment of this article.


[This analysis was originally published by Momentum Works in Chinese; translation into English by Brenda Singh]

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].