Why China’s Payment Apps Give U.S. Bankers Nightmares

For now, no company in the U.S. commands the kind of clout that Alipay and WeChat wield back home. Instead, everyone is trying to replicate their success.

“This is going to be the battle of all time—like who dominates all those services—and it’s still not known,” Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., told his company’s investors in February. “Everyone wants to be the place that is the one place you go to do that.”

The nightmare for the U.S. financial industry is that a technology company—whether from China or a homegrown juggernaut such as Amazon.com Inc. or Facebook Inc.—replicates the success of Alipay and WeChat in America. The stakes are enormous, potentially carving away billions of dollars in annual revenue from major banks and other firms. What follows is a breakdown of what that could look like—theoretically—using the explosive growth as China’s apps as a rough guide.

Perhaps the clearest opportunity lies in siphoning off some of the fees that U.S. merchants pay to accept cards and mobile payments—about $90 billion a year, according to the Nilson Report, an industry newsletter. That money gets parceled out to card networks such as Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc., payment processors and banks, which pocket the largest share.

In China, analysts expect third-party payment providers to earn about 40 percent of such fees by 2020. If apps were to start grabbing market share in the U.S. at roughly the same rate they did in China, it would take a $43 billion revenue bite out of a business banks count as among their most profitable.

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