Ant Financial launches mini-program business unit as it plays catch-up to Tencent’s WeChat

Internet companies are seeking to retain users within their so-called ecosystems, which has meant a race to offer various services to users.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 11:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 7:08pm

Ant Financial Services will spend 1 billion yuan (US$145.6 million) in the coming three years to promote the development of mini programs as the company seeks to enrich the portfolio of services available on its payments eco-system, it announced on Wednesday.

An affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, Ant Financial said its mini-program business unit had been officially established after a successful trial run of the service. The move is seen as an attempt to catch up to Chinese social media giant Tencent Holdings, which offers one million mini programs on its WeChat platform.

Alipay mini programs will gradually be opened to individual developers in the coming six months, Ant Financial said, adding that it wants to link its portfolio of services through mini programs. For example, Alipay mini-program users can use it for services ranging from food delivery from Alibaba’s on-demand units Koubei and, and as well as for mapping and navigation operator AutoNavi.

The use of mini programs was pioneered and popularised by Tencent, whose WeChat app has employed their use to become a super-app of daily services catering to the needs of its 1 billion users. The Shenzhen-based company reached the million mark for mini programs in the first half of this year.

How WeChat became China's everyday mobile app

Mini programs refer to applications that are small enough to run instantly on the main app interface instead of having to be downloaded separately as an app. They offer speed of access to users as they can run from within the main app on any operating system.

Tencent opened its mini-program platform to outside developers in April, giving them 30 to 50 per cent share of revenue generated from advertisements.

The user base of the Alipay mini program has reached 300 million since its trial operation in September 2017. There are 20,000 Alipay mini programs, covering nine areas including finance, education, medical and transport services.

Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.