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Apple Pay rolls out in Hong Kong with experts predicting ripe future for advanced mobile payment services

New contactless payment system enables transactions at 10,000 merchants in the city with supporting point-of-sale terminals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2016, 9:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 July, 2016, 9:21am

Hong Kong’s tepid mobile payments market may have received its biggest boost to date, after Apple Pay was rolled out on Wednesday to eligible cardholders of American Express, Visa and MasterCard.

The city is the third major market in the Asia-Pacific where the contactless mobile payment service, introduced by Apple about 20 months ago, has been launched this year, following mainland China and Singapore.

“In Hong Kong, contactless payments have become a necessity for everyday life, ” Caroline Ada, Visa’s country manager for Hong Kong and Macau, told the South China Morning Post.

“We expect the number of contactless payments to grow even further, driven by savvy Hong Kong consumers’ willingness to adopt new mobile technology like Apple Pay.”

There are an estimated 10,000 merchant locations in Hong Kong that accept Apple Pay, and more than 10 million in all nine major markets where the service has launched so far.

Apple Pay uses so-called near-field communications technology built into iPhones and Apple Watch to allow for contactless payment in stores, which have the contactless point-of-sale terminals to support the service.

It can also be used to pay for purchases made within mobile apps on the iPhone and iPad.

Participating banks in the city include Standard Chartered, DBS, Hang Seng Bank, HSBC, Bank of East Asia and BOC Credit Card, a subsidiary of Bank of China (Hong Kong).

The city has been behind other markets, especially mainland China, in adopting mobile payment services, despite recent campaigns from wireless network operators HKT and SmarTone Telecommunications.

Consumers in Hong Kong are used to more familiar payment options, such as Octopus cards. Plenty of merchants are also wary of making new investments in contactless point-of-sale terminals.

Banks and other financial services providers, however, are looking forward to changes in the market.

Ken Chew, the managing director of consumer finance and eBusiness at DBS Bank (Hong Kong), pointed out that consumers today are spending more time on their smartphones.

“We believe Apple Pay and other payment innovations will help reinvigorate and enhance how millions of people spend and pay everyday,” Chew said.

Alipay, the online payments platform run by Alibaba Group affiliate Ant Financial Services, is betting on that same trend as it plans to partner with one million offline merchants over the next three years, enabling Chinese tourists to make payments abroad using its mobile wallet service.

Alibaba owns the Post.

Greg Hingston, HSBC’s head of retail banking and wealth management in Hong Kong, said the bank’s number of active mobile banking customers “has increased almost 50 per cent over the past three years” as Apple Pay and other innovative offerings became available.

According to Apple, card numbers used on Apple Pay are not stored on the device nor on the company’s servers. Instead, a unique “device account number” is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the device being used. Each transaction is authorised with a one-time, unique dynamic security code.

HKT, Hong Kong's largest mobile network operator, has announced that its own Tap & Go mobile payment service will be adopting Apple Pay.

"Through Apple Pay, Tap & Go customers will soon be able to make purchases in stores at MasterCard contactless acceptance points or online within apps," HKT group managing director Alex Arena said.

Apple Pay, which was launched in October 2014, is also available in the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Switzerland and Australia.

Visa Hong Kong has published a list of local retailers offering Apple Pay here, and Mastercard Hong Kong has published a list of local retailers offering Apple Pay here.