How do you meet Santa Claus in Lapland without changing currencies, or working out how to pay in Finnish? Chris Skinner talks Alipay.

We hosted ePassi at our recent launch of Nordic Finance Innovate (NFI) in Helsinki, Finland. ePassi is the partner firm of Alipay, bringing the app to Finland to allow Chinese tourists to pay easily when travelling via Finland to Europe. It’s been very successful, as it was initially launched to allow tourists to come and meet Santa Claus in Lapland without having to change currencies or work out how to pay in Finnish.

Risto Virkkala, CEO of ePassi, presented a fascinating story of how ePassi was running a mobile app for companies to pay employees fringe benefit programmes before Alipay turned up. The service was basically an app with coupons, which made it a perfect fit for Alipay. They were in initial consultation about bringing the service over in spring 2016, and signed contracts in June for a live service by October. A four-month development cycle from contract to production was quite something. As Risto quipped, it usually takes more than four months to arrange a meeting with a senior bank person.

Anyway, from going live, the service soon saw over 50,000 tourists coming over for the Christmas season in Lapland, culminating in the launch of 12.12 there.

12.12 is another made-up shopping day like Singles Day (11.11) that drives traffic to merchants in the Alibaba ecosystem. If you want to know more about that, click here.

Anyways, Finland attracts over 550,000 Chinese tourists every year who spend an average of €940 during their visit, but the launch of Alipay has made this spend even higher because most Chinese tourists don’t use Western credit cards. Equally, the awareness of the service availability is increasing the attraction for Chinese tourists to visit Finland. In 2016, visitor numbers from China were up by a third on 2015, and they spent the most money of all visiting nationalities to Finland.

Risto told me that after the promotion of Alipay in China for Christmas 2016, tourists also spent three times as long in Lapland as they did the previous year. They love Christmas!

The success of the programme has now expanded to thousands of Finnish merchants and the airport, and ePassi’s revenues are likely to double in 2017. There’s no stopping there either, because by way of example Alibaba’s travel firm Alitrip is saying that up to eight million Chinese tourists will be coming to Finland in 2020. Wow, no wonder this is important strategically to the country, which hopes to become the hub for all Chinese tourists coming to Europe.

Certainly, I could see the attraction as we checked into the hotel in Helsinki and saw clear signage that Alipay was accepted, and found the same in many other shops and around the airport.

Alipay at Hilton Helsinki. Photo by Chris Skinner.

In fact, it intrigued me that we had that discussion in Helsinki and then, the following day, I chaired a meeting of people in Stockholm discussing the key Nordic payments wallets, which are MobilPay (Denmark), Siirto (Finland), Swish (Sweden) and Vipps (Norway).

What I realised as we talked is that I currently cannot travel the 43 kilometres from Copenhagen in Denmark to Malmo in Sweden with the same mobile payments app. The mobile wallets of the Nordic region have no interoperability today. Yet, I can travel the 6,300-kilometre trip from Beijing to Lapland and pay for everything with the same app. I would obviously use Alipay if it had a nice local language front-end. Now there’s a thought.

Meanwhile, if you want to hear the story one on one, here’s me and Risto talking about how the Alipay rollout in Finland worked …

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– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Image by vectorfusionart, Shutterstock.com

About the author

Chris Skinner

Chris Skinner is an independent commentator on the financial markets through the Finanser, and chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club, which he founded in 2004. He is an author of numerous books covering everything from European regulations in banking through to the credit crisis, to the future of banking.

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