Made in China: The Rise of the SuperBanking App
Historically, the Western world has made the majority of its biggest and most innovative discoveries through travel and the colonisation of other areas and continents that took our fancy. From tobacco to chocolate, the Silk Road has long since paved the way for our ‘discoveries’ long-deemed old news to our Eastern-Asian counterparts. Nowadays there seems little difference to the set up. While Silicon Valley announces huge headways and progress in the media world everyday, we only need to look over to places like China or India to see what our technology advancements will end up looking like, as in many of these places, the breakthroughs have already become commonplace in society. In areas like China, the so-called ‘Great Firewall’, that are series of code blockers that act as a barrier to media outside Government control lock down most media access. This has meant that the country has experienced a vast interior growth of so-called ‘SuperApps’ in what is a relatively short space of time due to the need for a one-size-fits-all application (app) that can transcend all your daily needs, while also being government compliant. In the Western world, there is less need to work under government control, but newly emerging smart banking apps like Venmo, Facebook and Plynk could stand to learn a lot from these Asian apps in establishing and populating users to the same elephantine extent.
The most popular of these apps: WeChat, is somewhat unknown in the West but boasts over 963 million monthly active users (TechNode, 2017). Over half of WeChat users have signed over access to their bank details and regular WeChatters tap in and out of this multi-purpose tool ten times a day, with a third using it to make regular online payments (The Economist, 2016). These are the kind of numbers that Silicon Drones would salivate at; but are finding issues in convincing new users that centralising everything, especially such private and risky details as bank accounts onto one app is worth the perceived risk involved. Many European/Western users grew up with the gradual expansion of the smartphone in their back pocket, and thus steadily built up a range of apps on an ‘as needed’ basis. Facebook handles their social network, Yelp provides reviews and Venmo looks after their money and instant bank transfers.
Conversely this Chinese SuperApp giant WeChat bundles every need a consumer could have into one interface and people have grown up trusting it enough to provide their details, and indeed need to provide their bank accounts to get by. Everyone is in someway connected to WeChat in China, from shop QR scan codes to a Slack-esque business section, WeChat connects the population of China under one logo.
Every app would ideally want access to your banking transaction history. Although online marketers like Amazon and Ebay can see what you have perused through on their own platform, they would kill to be able to follow you to the shop in the real world; to see your checkout basket on another website and gage a cross-platformed audit of how you buy your way through your daily life. The Western establishment of an easy, user-orientated banking ‘SuperApp’ would offer all this, acting as a savings account, transferring system and contactless debit card. Now it’s simply a race to see who gets there first in the Western world.
Examples of emerging media software that caters to this market would be Venmo, owned by PayPal and only available in the US. It has enjoyed a meteoric rise of success, showing there is a market for this kind of app. Venmo more than doubled its transaction volume from the start to the end of 2016 (ZDNet, 2017) and has gently eased users into a social media interface as well through the ability to view other people’s transactions with captions and an interior messaging platform between users.
Any online banking app is only worth as much as its bank of users with the biggest one worth its weight in gold. The more users a platform can tot up in its regular patron counter, the more others in society will feel that they are somehow ‘missing out’ by not having the app everyone else is using. One of the major draws to a new app is how many other people within their social circle use it (Wang et. al, 2003). The worry and risk of handing over private details to online banking apps is offset by others using it with little problem and giving a perceived credibility. This is where the problem is sparking off for Western media apps: although the Chinese government restricts choice on app variation and indigenous apps like WeChat and the Alibaba Group that provide the government with access to their central database had therefore early (and indeed, exclusive) admittance to the Chinese audience (Yanes and Berger, 2017). In the West we are suffering from an almost saturation point of selection that make apps difficult to stand out. In an App Store so full of opportunity, how do you make your produce the shiniest and safest?
Perceived usefulness as an incentive concept (Luarn & HuiLin, 2005) comes to the conclusion that in order to attract users to their platform, emerging Western apps that covet the online banking app sector must appeal to consumers thinking that having the app will improve or enhance their job performance. However, most of the newer software systems such as Facebook and Venmo market themselves as an easy to use efficient system but between social groups and friends rather than businesses. This differs greatly from WeChat, which does allow and encourage friendly exchanges of money (its 2014 launch of the digital red-envelope was lauded as a stroke of brilliance to encourage the older generation to sign-up as users (Sheng Li Digital, 2016)) but mainly works in a professional capacity as a business banking exchange app. Indeed, users can buy shares in the stock market and many use it to budget and pay their rent on it. To really catch up and break into this class of people, banking software apps should focus on perceived usefulness of the app to users, rather than perceived ease of use and social interaction.
First Past the Post
So why are Western platforms such as Venmo, Facebook, and the more European-oriented Plynk desperate to become the new banking app? The main reason is that emerging apps tend to try and appeal more towards young ‘emerging’ people in society is that a social media monopoly has a huge pull on new users as it offers immediate gratification as well as reducing the risk-factor of it being potentially buggy or harmful. As well as there being safety in numbers in terms of hacking and privacy issues (Sevignani, 2013). Young users enjoy being the ‘first’ to discover an app and brand loyalty is instilled amongst people at a young age (Barnes and Corbitt, 2003). Following on from this, the race for these apps to be first to secure a wide base of young users to sign over their bank details means they will be able to establish a trustworthy basis with their users that other apps will have to fight persuade over to their platform.
Getting there first means having a young group of users that will quite literally ‘grow up’ with that app in their back pocket. From receiving pocket money on the app to getting wages on it later in life, this means that an app can follow you throughout your life as a multipurpose wallet that you trust as the app expands.
I Don’t Need No Dollah Bills to Have Fun Tonight
If Western apps can tap into this huge resource and convince users to grant access to their bank accounts, and therefore most of their day-to-day lives, the advertising and capital return would be insurmountable. Although China has shown us how far an almost cashless society could go if an app gains the trust of the public to sign over their wallets, it is such an emerging industry we are only witnessing its infancy in the East and mere conception in the West. Although ‘smart’ technologies have become entwined in our everyday lives, there is an over-focus on how these apps will solve all our problems, targeting efficiency and solutionism over the complexities of society (Morozov, 2013) and the proposed isolationism these apps will cause. With no reason to interact or communicate with others outside our banking social network, will society slowly lose itself introspectively? Again, security in this discussion will always be an overriding feature but what if we consider not the security of people’s bank details but the security of the labour force. Will the over-focus of online banking leave those in the traditional banking sector without any labour roles to fill? Already Artificial Intelligence has become somewhat of a problem in reducing the need for manual labour, will these apps encourage and continue this spread up to white-collar jobs?
There are no right or wrong answers in whether becoming a cashless society will help or hinder us, mainly because no one can know yet due to its emergence only in recent years (and some would argue, months). Merely, we must be aware of it and what route it might take. We have to consider the balance of harms when signing over our banking and purchasing life to our smartphone, although helpful that everything will quite literally be at our fingertips, should we lift our head out of the void and browse what we already have? Banking SuperApps may be an easy, instant solution but is it the right one for us?
TechNode.“WeChat User & Business Ecosystem Report 2017.”, 24 Apr. 2017. Web. 20 Sept. 2017.
The Economist.“WeChat’s World.”, The Economist Newspaper, 06 Aug. 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2017.
Gagliordi, Natalie. “PayPal Delivers Solid Q1, Payment Volume Reaches $99 Billion.”, ZDNet, 26 Apr. 2017. Web. 19 Sept. 2017.
Y.-S. Wang, Y.-M. Wang, H.-H. Lin, T.-I.Tang. “Determinants of user acceptance of internet banking: An empirical study.”, International Journal of Service Industry Management, (2003), pp. 501-519
Patricia Yanes, Paul Berger, “How WeChat has changed the face of marketing in China”, British Journal of Marketing Studies Vol.5, No.3, (2017), pp.14-21
Luarn, Pin & Lin, Hsin-Hui, “Toward an understanding of the behavioral intention to use mobile banking.”, Computers in Human Behavior, (2005), pp. 873-891
Sheng Li Digital. “WeChat Red Envelope Digital Campaign.”, 07 Dec. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2017.
Sevignani, Sebastian. “Facebook vs. Diaspora: A critical study: Social media monopolies and their alternatives” (2013), pp.323-337
Barnes, Stuart & Corbitt, Brian, “Mobile banking: Concept and potential” International Journal of Mobile Communications,(2003) 273-288
Morozov, Evgeny, “To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism.” New York: Public Affairs, (2013)