This article is contributed by Zhao Tang, who is currently doing EMBA in Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration of Chulalongkorn University
Before we go to this topic, please allow me to share a little bit about the background of the Thai startup ecosystem. For those who are not very familiar, in a very short brief, the country’s funding of startups heavily relies on Corporate VCs (CVCs) rather than VCs compared to other markets in the Southeast Asia region, such as Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
OK, now let’s head to the topic. So currently there are about eight locally registered mobile payment systems, which are categorized into three tiers.
Tier 1 is PromptPay, a national project by the Thai government and private sectors in January 2017. Each legal holder of a Thai bank account, being either local or foreigner, is eligible to register this service with their own account as the accounts have already been verified by the banks.
Basically, it issues standardized QR codes which can be scanned by most of the local banking apps. So when a user of bank A performs a PromptPay transfer by scanning the QR code from bank B, it’s effectively similar to completing an instant interbank transfer locally. The money will be deducted from A’s account and credited to B’s instantly.
Does the process sound familiar? Yes, it’s just like the payment process of Cloud QuickPass QR Code (云闪付) by UnionPay from China, or NETS Pay QR payment from Singapore. Since there’s no fee attached to such types of transactions of payment, it has been widely accepted by B2C and P2P payments.
Unlike some merchants who imposed minimum payment for credit card transactions, 300 or 500 Thai baht, users can use PromptPay to transfer literally at any amount. No matter riding the BTS Sky Train in Bangkok, or buying some snacks in a small shop in Chiang Mai, this is the only one that can work with all-sizes of businesses very well.
Well, one thing different from UnionPay or NETS is that it seems that PromptPay is running as BaaS (banking as a service) for the moment. Consumers in China and Singapore may find many marketing campaigns by the two, those in Thailand can find nothing special and could only access PromptPay from their own bank apps now, such as SCB PromptPay, KBank PromptPay or Bangkok Bank PromptPay.
Tier 2 has the most interesting one with four players, TrueMoney, Rabbit LINE Pay, Dofin, and AirPay.
Launched in June 2013, in terms of coverage, both the width and depth, TrueMoney probably is the current market leader, as it’s backed by CP Group, one of the largest Thai conglomerates, which operates 7-ELEVEN and TrueMove mobile network in Thailand. With the user base from the two businesses, it will be a lot easier to convince other merchants to accept TrueMoney.
From a user perspective, TrueMoney also can be used as a virtual credit card by MasterCard and linked to Google Store for payments. TrueCoffee, a coffee restaurant chain usually located in a TrueMove Mobile Shop, now offers a 10% discount for the TrueMoney users. Another sweet feature is that verified foreigners could link their international credit cards with TrueMoney as well for QR Code payments.
LINE is a popular messaging app in Thailand, almost all Thais have at least one account. I think the status of this app in Thailand is similar to WeChat in China and WhatsApp in Singapore. While LINE Pay as a mobile app feature was launched in Thailand in July 2015, about two years after TrueMoney, it was merged with Rabbit card and rebranded as Rabbit LINE Pay in October 2018, making it a unique offline-and-online payment mode.
Rabbit Card is the only transport card for BTS Sky Train rides. When the two merged, Rabbit Cardholders could link their card with the LINE application, provided with real-name registration at counters across BTS stations. Once it’s done, Rabbit LINE Pay users can view and use the app for QR code and other online payments or tap and pay via the physical card with the commonly shared top-up wallet.
Users can bring the card to top up at the stations in cash, or transfer money from their bank account via the app online. The combination may sound unique to many, including me at first, but after trying a few times, my question is why do we still need the physical card except riding BTS?
Dolfin is the youngest among the four, which officially launched in January 2020, by the two largest retailers, Central Group in Thailand and JD.com in China. After the launch, all Central Group’s businesses, such as FamilyMart Thailand, Tops Supermarkets and Central Shopping Malls, all started to accept this newest e-wallet.
There are also many promotions and marketing from Central Group’s The 1 Card, claiming a membership pool of 25% of Thai’s 70 million population, and the rising e-commerce site JD.co.th. If played well, Dolfin could grab some shares from its early-arrived peers and really have the potential to challenge the market leaders.
AirPay Thailand was launched by Garena in 2014 as an e-wallet facilitating payments for the games. In November 2016, AirPay launched a virtual credit card for other online shopping and payment demands. With the continuous growth of Shopee, the fast-growing e-commerce arm of Sea Group (formally known as Garena), AirPay will race for its popularity in Thailand as it’s the embedded payment for Shopee now.
Tier 3 players
Those in Tier 3 are relatively quiet in the market. BLUE Pay focuses on the payment solutions on its own vending machines. LazadaPay, formally known as HelloPay, looks like the early stage of Airpay a few years ago.
An interesting case is GLOBAL Pay, by one of the top mobile operators AIS with the partnership with VIA, a cross border payment network headquartered in Singapore. However, this unique one can only support transactions outside Thailand, more of a mobile version of the traveler’s cheque.
Undoubtedly, PromptPay is a strategic project that pushed up Thailand’s progress of being a cashless society. Even if it may have the largest user base across the country, being the nature of those who legally have a Thai bank account, who can use PromptPay, the roadmap of this leading mobile payment may stay as a product for the public.
Those ambitious local banks, SCB and KBank have also been investing a lot to reshape its mobile banking app by introducing investment products, insurance as well as other partnerships for better customer experience.
For instance, a unique product is called KhunThong, a social chatbot in LINE built by KBank. Once adding this chatbot into the LINE group and linking the KBank account, it helps friends in the same group to calculate share of bills, and consolidate the collection of payment messaging.
What KhunThong does is very similar to Alipay and WeChat pay’s built-in feature – Go Dutch Payment Collection (AA 收款). KhunThong could achieve the same result but has to go through a messaging app. You can’t really send messages from KBank’s app to SCB’s app, can’t you? This should have been done by Rabbit LINE Pay years ago, but it seems that it doesn’t have exciting news for its features for quite a while. Maybe because the developers are in Japan?
So, the most promising ones are TrueMoney and Dolfin. After all, mPay, the original mobile wallet launched by AIS, TrueMove’s competitor, has lost in the battle and mainly serves only AIS services users and for some PromptPay transactions.
TrueMoney is leveraging its relationship with its parent stakeholders with an increasing number of marketing partners onboard. The 7-ELEVEN network is one of the key reasons for many to use this app. As for Dolfin, cards from Central are good but also tricky. After all, for joint ventures, conflict of interests, as time goes by, is not uncommon from what we have seen in other cases.
Next year, we may see how GrabPay Powered by KBank and GoPay from GoJek stirs the Thai market. But it may just sound like AgodaPay?