China UnionPay has struck a deal with a UK-based back-office technology startup Tribe Payments in its effort to step up its presence in Europe.
The partnership will allow the world’s biggest card issuer to enable banks and fintechs to start offering its cards in the region starting this month.
Suresh Vaghjiani, the founder of Tribe, said the deal shows UnionPay’s ambition to compete with major card companies in the region. Through this agreement, European institutions can now issue UnionPay cards to consumers.
Chartered by the People’s Bank of China in 2002, UnionPay has a virtual monopoly on bank card payments in the local scene. At 6 million cards, it has issued more cards than Visa and Mastercard combined.
Since then, the Chinese group has been expanding globally, primarily in Asia. It claims that more than 41 million merchants accept its cards. Their cards are also honoured in 2 million ATMs in 170 countries, 40 or those are in Europe.
UnionPay moved into the region a decade ago to serve Chinese tourists. Today, 60% of merchants and ATMs accept their card on the continent. One of those is the London-based department store Harrods, where it installed a UnionPay point-of-sale terminal. This move resulted in a surge in sales from Chinese students and tourists who were allowed to spend directly from their bank accounts at home.
The card issuer’s latest move comes as it is facing intensified competition in its home market with digital payments groups including Alipay of Ant Financial and WeChat Pay of Tencent. The two companies have dislodged UnionPay from its dominant position when it comes to online transactions.
With the rise of digital payment scheme, UnionPay is suffering from a substantial reduction in its fee income as well as valuable transaction data from consumers who have switched to a mobile phone payment method from the traditional plastic one.