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DIGITAL PAYMENTS

Grab aims to drive Asean e-wallet adoption with latest card launch

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Rama Sridhar (left), Mastercard's executive VP, Asia-Pacific digital and emerging partnerships, and new payment flows; and Ooi Huey Tyng, managing director, GrabPay, with mockups of the GrabPay Card.

Singapore

GRAB is turning up the heat in the payments competition, launching GrabPay Card to tie in its ambition to drive an Asean wallet for borderless payments by the rising middle class.

The virtual GrabPay Card - which allows users to spend from the GrabPay wallet on a card - was made available in Singapore for application on Thursday. It will be launched in the Philippines in the first quarter of next year, along with two other markets in Asean later in 2020, said Ooi Huey Tyng, managing director of GrabPay, in an interview with The Business Times .

With the Mastercard partnership, GrabPay Card users will be able to access about 53 million merchants worldwide. Grab will also have richer access to data, as it captures more overseas spending, and in turn, try to personalise merchant offers based on individual spending patterns, said Ms Ooi. She declined to disclose a target for the number of card users.

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As it is, the interface on each customer's Grab app may already look different, depending on usage behaviour. The wallet - which is commonly branded as a SuperApp - is due for a redesign so users can find relevant offers via a one-stop shop, said Ms Ooi.

The card functions as a multi-currency card - an increasingly crowded market that Grab hopes to compete in using rewards and data-driven sales. GrabPay's funds in the user's home currency can be converted for spending on items priced in foreign currencies, with the conversion rate disclosed to users upfront prior to purchase. The foreign-currency transaction fee is 2 per cent. Overseas ATM withdrawal incurs a S$5 charge.

Over the last six months, GrabPay's total payment volume has more than doubled, while its number of monthly active users has risen by 65 per cent. To be sure, monthly active users refer to those who use GrabPay at least once a month. Grab is moving to track more of its daily active users, the pool of which has also grown "significantly", said Ms Ooi, though she declined to reveal the exact figures. GrabPay is now the dominant e-wallet in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Still, despite the high usage of mobile devices in Singapore, consumers are still using cash, or have not shifted significantly from using plastics, to mobile payments, Ms Ooi said.

The GrabPay card does not have a card number printed on it, making it Asia's first such numberless card. The Apple Card was launched earlier this year in the US as a numberless card as well. On top of having the usual security features embedded in existing card products, a card that has its number stripped from it offers an added layer of protection against fraud. Customers can get the physical card if they wish, but from Feb 1 next year, that application will incur a fee.

Having a numberless card can tackle the "fear factor" from those who have yet to move from cash-based payments, said Rama Sridhar, Mastercard's executive vice-president, Asia Pacific digital and emerging partnerships, new payment flows, in the joint interview with BT.

She pointed to South-east Asia as a "very critical" growth region for Mastercard that also has a sizeable underbanked population. "We are bringing them formally from the cash world into the cashless world, (and) opening up the world of digital engagement to these (consumers) who perhaps were deprived of it."

The latest move also speaks to the growing urbanisation in Asean, as more consumers look to travel and shop online, said Ms Ooi. Against this backdrop, users get free mobile phone protection coverage if they pay for their monthly mobile bills using the GrabPay Card, as well as free e-commerce purchase protection for their online shopping. A Mastercard Flight Delay pass also gives the card user and his or her companion free lounge access for two flights that get delayed for two hours or more.

The digital payments market in South-east Asia is set to push the region's Internet economy to a US$300 billion market by 2025, the annual e-Conomy report by Google, Temasek Holdings and Bain & Company released in October showed.