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13 May 2019

How QFPay conquered the cloud-based payments challenge

James Orme

Klaus Schwab’s prediction of a fourth industrial revolution is based on the principle that interconnected cyber-physical systems will facilitate and automate economic interactions and productivity at a scale never before seen.

While not all of his predictions have scaled up, the scale of economic interactions has drastically elevated thanks to mobile payment systems facilitated by high-speed cloud computing. Merchants and consumers can exchange value in more ways, in more locations and faster than ever before.

A company responsible for driving adoption of this technology in Asia (and the world at large) is Beijing-based QFPay, a mobile fintech company that provides a smart payment cloud solution and business platform for merchants. Ahead of his talk at Cloud Expo Asia in Hong Kong, we spoke to Tim Lee about the company’s plans for international expansion.

QFPay

QFPay’s goal, in founder Tim Lee’s own words, is to “build a network” that “wins the market”. The key to success he says is constant innovation. Since Lee founded QFPay in 2011 the fintech has time and again raised the bar for mobile payments.

Two technologies kickstarted the mobile payments revolution. First, the development of mobile point-of sale (POS) terminals allowed merchants of all sizes access to process card payments. Then Host Card Emulation (HCE) came along, for the first time allowing mobile devices to emulate physical cards on any NFC-enabled device. In both areas QFPay was instrumental in setting the standard: developing the world’s first Bluetooth POS and in 2012 launching the world’s first mobile payment reader, two years ahead of PayPal.

The volume of mobile payments has accordingly grown in sync with the proliferation of always-on NFC-enabled mobile devices and the availability of POS systems. In the Asia-Pacific region the transformation is palpable and borne out by the statistics: The region’s nations are global leaders in mobile payments and more than one in two smartphone users are expected to pay using a mobile device in 2019, way above the worldwide average.

Its effects on the economy are profound: Last Spring, QFPay stats revealed the number of Hong Kong merchants and transactions grew by 202 percent and 304 percent, respectively.

In China alone, more than half a billion people use mobile payment services such as Alipay and WeChat Pay to transact in online and brick-and-mortar stores. Although the company is less well known internationally, it is QFPay’s cloud payment system that powers these wallets. So critical are its solutions, QFPay is now China’s leading mobile payment fintech; serving over one million merchants and 500 million users. And now it has eyes on the international market:

“We want to connect the world,” says Lee. “We are not serving one market or one country, but we are serving globally. Now, we have over 14 countries or regions we are expanding them more and more.”

In an increasingly crowded field, QFPay stays differentiated by creating new products services using data insights and “exporting, modifying, and localising” them all over the world. Lee says that the China region has served as the “R&D centre” for these services, including WeChat Pay’s “red packet”, a service that gifts money to WeChat users upon purchases.

These services are examples of a pivotal evolution in smart mobile payments known as “O2O” (online-to-offline), where online discoveries serve as catalysts for further payments in the offline world. In other words, QFPay is creating new ways for companies and payments institutions to target consumers. “The product cannot compete alone,” says Lee. “There are a lot of services required.”

The cloud

Improvements in cloud-based security (chiefly tokenisation) means the processing of these transactions can done off-prem, enabling a shopping list of benefits.

Under the bonnet, QFPay deploys a combination of hybrid and multicloud architectures and uses both international and local clouds, from AWS to Alibaba Cloud to Tencent. To divide workloads it uses its own data centres for payment validation and bookkeeping and relies on the cloud for data backup. A key motivation for the diversity of architectures is reliability and regulation as they scale, Lee says:

“Because we’re serving across multiple countries, we need to comply with the country’s own regulations. Some of the countries say that you can’t really store anything on a cloud, or some of the countries say that you can’t store sensitive data on a cloud. It depends on the country. Hence, we use this multiple approach.”

QFPay implements PCI-DSS payment international security standards, which clearly stipulate how financial companies must treat its data, servers, data centre, people, and processes, and other security matters related to software and hardware. QFPay has been a Level 1 payment provider for five consecutive years, an award only granted at Visa’s discretion once a company has processed over 6 million transactions a year. QFPay is well above that threshold, serving millions of customers a day (its architecture can withstand over 10 million transactions a day, Lee adds.)

Regarding other fintechs and industry developments, Lee says he is most impressed with Chinese insurance giant Ping An, and is optimistic about the impact of “virtual banks” in Hong Kong, that recently received the regulatory green light from the HKMA.

“[Ping An] is doing a lot of initiatives. Although we are not deeply touched, we think they’re very innovative, especially in the banking area.”

“[Virtual banking] is a very important change for Hong Kong especially in the financial area. The virtual bank itself will be a slow start and then maybe after it’s really launched, they’ll be more and more innovation that can be done.”

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