Mobile payments

Hong Kong telecoms operators finally rolling out mobile payment systems, but experts sceptical

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 July, 2015, 9:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 July, 2015, 2:44pm

Telecommunications giant HKT hopes to give Hong Kong's tepid mobile payments market a much-needed boost with the launch of a new contactless, Octopus-card-esque system.

"Tap & Go, in every way, will redefine the meaning of money," HKT group managing director Alex Arena said on Monday.

"Money will no longer be coins, paper or even credit cards," Arena said. "Money will be your smartphone."

The Tap & Go app, available online via the Android Play Store, enables HKT mobile subscribers to make payments at more than three million MasterCard PayPass readers in stores around the world using their Android smartphones. Users simply tap their smartphones on the PayPass point-of-sale readers at the stores.

The payment system is embedded in the new "all-in-one" subscriber identity module (SIM) cards provided by HKT for more than 40 different Android smartphone models with near-field communications (NFC) technology. Payment for online purchases are capped at HK$10,000 (US$1,289) per transaction.

Users can also transfer money instantly to family and friends who have Tap & Go accounts through peer-to-peer mode by tapping their smartphone, or even remotely by phone-to-phone connection.

This so-called PayBuddy function can top up a user's account by up to HK$10,000 per day to cover transactions of up to HK$1,000 each in stores, which is the highest among existing mobile payment services in Hong Kong.

Automatic top-up transfers can be made by users who have credit card accounts with launch partner Dah Sing Bank. Cash top-ups are now available at all HKT, Csl and 1010 shops, and will soon extend to all 7-Eleven convenience stores in Hong Kong.

The service also allows each user to review their past three months' transaction history online through the Tap & Go app. It can also be used to pay for other services, such as HKT fixed-line telephone, broadband and Now TV services.

Tap & Go marks the latest foray into the mobile payment arena for HKT, which runs Hong Kong's largest wireless network. IT has existing mobile payment programmes under a series of partnerships, first announced in 2013, with Octopus Cards, HSBC and Joint Electronic Teller Services, operator of the Jetco network of automated teller machines.

Arena said the difference with Tap & Go is that HKT is the SIM card issuer, the new all-in-one cards can hold many other applications and the transaction amounts covered are higher.

Arena added that the old stored-value cards have been replaced with better technology. "You lose that card, you lose your money," he said. "In the new service, the money is stored back in the cloud. It's very secure. You lose your phone, you don't have to lose your money."

HKT subscribers using iPhones are encouraged to sign up for a Tap & Go plastic card, which can be used to tap with NFC-enabled smartphones for money transfer.

Rival mobile operator 3 Hong Kong introduced its own tap-and-pay mobile payment system in 2013 called "3 Citi Wallet" with partner Citibank Hong Kong. This service, which is tailored for Citibank credit card holders, enables users to make payments at more than 9,000 Visa payWave contactless readers installed with merchants across the city.

The 3 Citi Wallet app is supported by NFC-equipped Android and iPhone smartphones.

A spokesman for 3 Hong Kong said the operator was "closely monitoring the evolving market trend of mobile payment services".

SmarTone, the smallest of the city's mobile network operators, also offers tap-and-pay mobile payment programmes for Hang Seng Bank and HSBC credit card users with NFC-enabled Android smartphones.

An industry source pointed out on Monday that adoption of mobile phone payment systems in Hong Kong remains behind other markets, especially mainland China. He said there are more familiar payment options, such as bank credit cards or Octopus cards, for consumers that provide merchants with the leeway not make new investments in contactless, point-of-sale readers.

The source added that what is also hindering widespread adoption is the limited support of NFC-ready iPhone users. "That counts as more than half of the subscriber base of each operator in Hong Kong," the source said.

Apple has restricted third-party use of its NFC set-up on iPhones because of the company has its own mobile payment system, called Apple Pay, that currently runs in the United States and Britain.