Octopus needs to join with other mobile payment vendors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2016, 12:18am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2016, 12:18am

It is clear that the Octopus card company is heading in the wrong direction in its efforts to compete in the mobile payment market.

The O! ePay app for android devices only supports credit cards issued by Standard Chartered Bank. This is much less convenient than WeChat Pay and Alipay, and the app received a poor rating of 2.1 out of 5.0 in the Google app store.

The company’s latest solution for iPhones requires the purchase of a Bluetooth card reader that costs HK$228. It is hard to imagine that many customers would buy the card readers when similar transactions can be easily executed with an iPhone alone, using Apple Pay.

If Octopus Cards Limited is serious about facilitating mobile payments in Hong Kong, it should first recognise that the physical cards are redundant for people who prefer to pay with their smartphones.

Instead of adding new hardware to link Octopus cards with smartphones, the company should gradually phase out the physical Octopus cards and offer smartphone-based virtual Octopus cards taking advantage of near-field communication (NFC), a smartphone technology for contactless payment.

Since Apple does not open its NFC to third parties, Octopus should offer a partnership deal to Apple by allowing Apple Pay to use its countless Octopus card readers across the city.

It should also partner with other mobile payment vendors such as Google Wallet, WeChat Pay and Alipay to support fund transfers between Octopus accounts and other mobile wallets within smartphones.

Nearly 20 years ago, Octopus cards were first introduced in Hong Kong through a joint venture of five major public transport operators.

Given its strong ties with the public interest and the resulting natural monopoly, Octopus is socially responsible to advance mobile payment technologies and to ensure a level playing field for all mobile payment vendors in the city.

The current moves to develop its proprietary app (O! ePay) and hardware for mobile payments have become an embarrassment for a city that boasts advanced information technology and values competition in a free-market economy.

A partnership with other mobile payment vendors in the city may help the company reinvent itself as a leader in the mobile payment market and stay true to its corporate history and identity.

Simon Wang, Kowloon Tong