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A group of major financial institutions have set up e-wallets on the digital yuan app developed by the People’s Bank of China. Photo: Xinhua

Fintech giant Ant Group’s MYbank joins China’s digital yuan platform

  • MYbank is the first online lender to join a group of major financial institutions that have set up e-wallets on China’s digital yuan app
  • The participation of these banks shows how China is bolstering efforts to lead major economies in developing a central bank digital currency
MYbank, an online lender affiliated with financial technology giant Ant Group, has become the first internet bank to join China’s digital currency platform, in a move that strengthens support for Beijing’s rapid development of a “sovereign digital yuan”.
The digital currency app developed by China’s central bank now has e-wallets – online services that let users make electronic transactions and store their payment data – set up by seven financial institutions, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Bank of China, Bank of Communications, Postal Savings Bank of China and MYbank, according to the latest update of the platform seen by the South China Morning Post.

Users are now able to open an account associated with MYBank, but its top-up function has not yet been activated because it was “still being developed”, according to the app.

The update also showed that Tencent Holdings-backed WeBank will “soon be activated” as an option.
The logo of MYbank, an affiliate of financial technology giant Ant Group, is seen at the online lender’s headquarters in Hangzhou, capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province. Photo: Reuters

“Ant Group associate MYbank will steadily advance the [digital yuan] trial pursuant to the overall arrangement of the People’s Bank of China,” said an Ant representative in a statement. “Ant Group, together with MYbank, will also continue to support the research, development and trial of the PBOC’s e-CNY.”

Ant is an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, the parent company of the Post.

WeBank declined to comment.

The roster of financial institutions that have joined the PBOC-developed app shows how China is bolstering efforts to lead major economies in developing a central bank digital currency, also known as Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) system, after expanding tests in April this year into more regions.

Ant Group shows off its work on China’s digital currency for the first time

The e-yuan function is also currently available on Ant’s mobile payment app Alipay for a certain group of users, according to a recent report by Shanghai Securities News.

That arrangement could further help grow digital yuan users across the country, where Alipay has roughly 700 million monthly active users – a customer base that is connected to 80 million merchants and more than 2,000 financial institutions.

Mu Changchun, the director of the Digital Currency Research Institute at the PBOC, clarified at an event in Shanghai last October that China’s DCEP does not compete with mobile payment systems like Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay.

“WeChat Pay and Alipay are wallets, while the digital yuan is the money in the wallet,” Mu said.

Ant was invited to join the PBOC’s research and development programme for the DCEP in late 2017, while Tencent got involved in February 2018, according to information provided by the two companies at a trade fair last month in the city of Fuzhou, in southeastern Fujian province.

Shanghai, Hainan added to e-yuan trials as China inches towards launch

Despite the PBOC’s recent efforts, convincing local consumers to use the digital yuan app for daily transactions could take more time.

Julia Chu, a 30-year-old saleswoman in Beijing, downloaded the PBOC app to get a 200 yuan (US$37) digital cash gift during a lottery draw in February, when the electronic currency was tested in Beijing. After spending that amount on food, Chu said she has not used the app since.

“The app was convenient and smooth, but it was not as convenient as Alipay or WeChat Pay in daily use,” she said. “One has to top-up the digital wallet and then pay. By comparison, payment via Alipay or WeChat Pay is just one step with the bank card associated with the account.”

“I may go back to the digital yuan wallet if there is a discount or coupon,” she said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: MYBank becomes first online lender on e-yuan platform