Investment guru Warren Buffett likes to tuck into McDonalds and drinks Coke because he owns them. Apple honcho Tim Cook always uses his company’s products.
But Alibaba founder Jack Ma is different. When he was spotted in a Chongqing pub, Ma was seen paying for his 1,300 yuan (US$201) bill with a credit card instead of using Alipay, according to media reports.
Naturally, the news created a storm on chatrooms in China.
Ma, of course, is certainly one of the 500 million registered users of Alipay. In fact, he is the main reason that China’s online payment platform has become the world’s largest.
Alipay’s parent company Ant Financial is also expected to raise fresh capital in Hong Kong, despite failing in its bid to buy payment firm MoneyGram in the United States after its takeover was blocked by the regulator.
Still, last week, Ma had to apologize to Alipay users for a misleading credit score service on the platform, which involved handing over personal data. Now, there is the credit card controversy.
After the news went viral on social media in China, Alipay was forced to make a statement on Weibo. It said everyone had the right to choose how to pay for services and goods. Individual choices should be respected and that included Alipay staff, it concluded.
Ma is not alone in opting for a credit card instead of an online payment platform. Chan Ka-keung, the former Hong Kong Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, defended his decision to use a credit card, saying it was more convenient than a mobile payment platform.
“Hong Kong people like to use Octopus [a pre-paid card] and credit cards,” he said. “I think the card is more convenient and I think many people [here] share that view.”
Hong Kong has been accused of lagging behind China in using mobile payment platforms, largely because of the obsession with credit cards, and the vested interests of financial institutions.
But there is a big difference. China’s largest banknote is just 100 yuan (US$15.4), while debit cards are more common than credit cards on the mainland. This has proved fertile ground for Alipay and rival WePay, the mobile payment arm of Tencent.
Francis Lui Ting-ming, the former economics professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, joked that even beggars take Alipay in China.
Maybe? But the mobile payment sector on the mainland is certainly a sunrise industry, generating $5 trillion in transactions in 2016, according to data released by Hillhouse Capital last May.
That would have certainly brought a smile to Ma’s face, even if he was holding a credit card at the time.