How Alipay and WeChat are setting the tone for payments

I recently had to think back to the words of a well-known London-based Fintech CTO who talked about how in Asia, the Fintech playing field is miles ahead compared to some of the things that are happening in Europe and in the US. His comments came to mind when I overheard a conversation between two, ‘more traditional’ shall we say, senior financial service people, talking about  “definitely worth having a mobile app, since that’s what people want and expect.”

To be clear, I’m not trying to knock apps, especially if you look at the amazing apps that the likes of Revolut, Simple and Monzo have created. However, I can’t help try to look ahead and figure out what could be around the corner. For example, I recently looked at PayKey, which integrates payments with messenger apps. The likes of KakaoTalk and Line are already doing this successfully.

I do feel though that all these products are simple dwarfed by the scale with which WeChatPay and Alipay have been adopted, predominantly in Asia:

WePay by Tencent (Tencent is known as Weixin in China)

Even though the functionality of the continental version of WeChat feels quite limited, it’s easy to see how WeChat has evolved rapidly from just a messenger app to platform which incorporates gaming, shopping and payments. WeChatPay, the payment functionality built into WeChat, enables peer-to-peer money transfers, make payments online and with participating offline retailers.


Fig. 1 – Screenshot of WeChat payment interface – Taken from:

There are a number of different types of WeChat payment applications:

  • App Payment – For Android / iOS apps wanting to include WeChat as a payment option
  • Offline Payment – WeChat Offline Payment is meant for brick-and-mortar stores wanting to add WeChat payment via QR codes
  • Official Account Payment – This application is used in order to embed WeChat payment within a mobile website

By integrating with WeChat messaging and payment functionality, brands are creating a very seamless user experience and are interacting where their (target) customers already are. Soapnut Republic and its integration with WeChat’s payment functionality is a good example (see Fig. 2 below).


Fig. 2 – WePay screenshot, once a user has completed shopping, she can either use her card to pay or use WeChat’s mobile wallet – Taken from: – a big Chinese ecommerce platform – has got redirects with WeChat. For example, when customers following the Moleskine account on WeChat want to make a purchase, they are redirected (within the WeChat app) to the brand’s mobile-friendly store on (see Fig. 3 below).


Fig. 3 – WePay screenshot, once a user has completed shopping, she can either use her card to pay or use WeChat’s mobile wallet – Taken from:

I can imagine that when WeChat launches its new “mini-apps” service in a few days time, its market presence will increase even more. These mini-apps are a type of app that one can use immediately, without having to download or install anything. Users scan a QR code or search and can immediately open an app.


Fig. 4 – Example of WeChat mini-app as created by Walkthechat – Taken from:

As WeChat has only launched a developer Beta version of its new mini-apps, I haven’t yet had a chance to play with the apps. However, I’ve learned that through mini-apps users and businesses will most probably be able to (1) do voice recording (through the WeChat API) (2) login (the app will also enable voice recognition) (3) send messages to users and (4) build web apps and services on top of the app.

One will be able to access mini-apps through a special panel, which will be accessible from the “Discover” section of a user’s WeChat account. These mini-apps enable storage of some of the data and code directly on one’s phone, which no doubt will help with app performance and speed.


Alipay by Ant Financial

Forget about traditional banks, Alipay’s ascension and reach has been incredible. Its parent company Ant Financial is controlled by Jack Ma, the founder of ecommerce platform Alibaba. This gives Ant Financial access to all of Alibaba’s ecommerce businesses and the merchants who sell through the platform. Through ownership of Alipay, Ant Financial plays a part in about 65 per cent of China’s online payments and about 80 per cent in the mobile space.


Fig. 5 – Screenshot of Alipay’s mobile wallet – Taken from:

Given the role that Alipay plays in the ecosystem of online buyers and sellers, it’s interesting to look at how Alipay facilitates cross-border mobile payments and how it supports settlement with overseas merchants in 12 foreign currencies (see Fig. 6 below).


Fig. 6 – Introduction to Alipay’s cross-border mobile payment capability – Taken from:

Until writing this piece, I hadn’t realised that Ant Financial has a stake in Paytm, which is claimed to be India’s largest mobile and ecommerce platform (see Fig. 7 below).


Fig. 7 – Screenshot of Paytm’s iOS mobile wallet

Main learning point: Call me a clairvoyant, but I can see how the likes of Alipay and WeChat will soon take over the world – from a payments perspective at least – purely because of the scale at which they operate and the way they’re nested in a large, diverse ecosystem of online services and users.

Related links for further learning:


Some good conversational UI examples to learn from

It was Dennis Mortensen – CEO/Founder of – who made me aware a few years ago of the concept of ‘invisible interfaces’. He talked about applications no longer needing a graphical user interface (GUI), taking “Amy” –’s virtual personal assistant as a good example (see Fig. 1 below).


Fig. 1 – Amy,’s virtual assistant – Taken from:

Since then, I’ve been keeping more of an eye out for bots and virtual assistants, which can run on Slack, WeChat, Facebook Messenger or Amazon Echo. Like “Amy” these applications can be driven entirely by complex machine learning algorithms, or can be more ‘smoke and mirrors’ and operated entirely by humans. Let’s just have a look at some relevant examples to illustrate where I think some of these virtual assistants and chatbots are heading.

Example 1 – Nordstrom Chatbot and Operator offering personalised discovery:

US based Nordstrom recently launched its first chatbot for the 2016 holiday season. If you’re already on Facebook Messenger or Kik, Nordstrom’s virtual assistant is only a click away. Users who engage with Nordstrom’s bot will be asked a number of questions about who they’re shopping for. The bot will then respond with bespoke gift suggestions based on the user’s responses.


Fig. 2 – Nordstrom Chatbot – Taken from:

You can get a similar experience using Operator, which is driven entirely by human experts who’ll provide you with personalised advice on what to buy (see Fig. 3 below).



Fig. 3 – Operator’s experts providing tailored advice to its users – Taken from:

Example 2 – KLM sharing flight information via Facebook Messenger:

KLM, the well known international airline, now enables customer to receive their flight documentation via Facebook Messenger. After booking a flight on KLM’s website, customers can choose to receive their booking confirmation, check-in details, boarding pass and flight status updates via Messenger. It’s built on a Messenger plug-in which customers only have to enable in order to receive ‘personalised’ messages from KLM (see Fig. 4 below).


Fig. 4 – Screenshot of KLM’s Messenger app – Taken from:

Example 3 – Telegram using buttons for discovery and shortcuts:

As much as it’s great to have a very simple ‘single purpose’ conversational user interface, there are messenger apps and virtual assistants out there that do offer user functionality that works better with buttons to click. A good example is the Telegram app, which has buttons for specific actions and shortcuts (see Fig. 5 below).


Fig. 5   – Screenshot of the buttons in Telegram’s messenger app – Taken from:

Main learning point: I’ll no doubt learn more about conversational user interfaces over the coming months and years, but looking at simple examples like, Nordstrom’s Chatbot, Operator, Telegram and KLM’s Messenger feels like a very good starting point!

Related links for further learning:


My product management toolkit (16): How not to become a “Product Janitor”?

It does make me feel sad at times. It does frustrate me occasionally. Sometimes I even want to shake them. “Product Janitors”. I’ve conducted countless job interviews where the candidate came across as as Product Janitor instead of a Product Manager. Let me outline what I think makes someone a Product Janitor and I’ll provide some tools to stop yourself from becoming one!

Tool 16 – Ways to stop becoming a Product Janitor



Fig. 1 – Don’t become a Product Janitor – Taken from:

In my view, there are two key behaviours which make someone a Product Janitor:

Mopping up all the things that the other team members don’t want to do  I believe that as a product manager there’s a risk of doing things that you’re not necessarily supposed to do or which take precious time away from things like product strategy or engaging with (potential) customers. For example, I’ve seen good product people ending up as a Scrum Master / pastoral carer / tester / dogsbody for the product development teams that they’re a part of. Whilst I’ve got absolutely nothing against about helping each other out and collaborating, I’d be careful about picking tasks or responsibilities purely because no one else is doing so!

Saying ‘yes’ regardless – Granted, it can be hard to say ‘no’ to people. However, I’m afraid that as a product person, you’ll simply have to! If you don’t say ‘no’, or at least ask ‘why’, there’s a risk of you becoming a shepherd of a bunch of someone else’s user stories or requirements and that’s it. When I’m looking for good product people, I want to meet people who feel comfortable saying ‘no’. People who have a clear product vision and strategy and aren’t afraid to make tough decisions (see Fig. 2 below).





Fig. 2 – “Big” Product Owner vs “Small” Product Owner – Taken from:

This raises the question about what one can do to avoid becoming a Product Janitor:

Carve out time to create a product vision, strategy and roadmap – Having a clear product vision, strategy and roadmap can really help in safeguarding yourself becoming the steward of someone else’s backlog. The chances of you just cleaning up someone else’s mess become slimmer if you have a clear vision, strategy and roadmap that drive your everyday activities. Especially if you’re working at a small startup, you’re bound to wear multiple hats. However, I believe you can still be selective about the number and types hats you decide to wear, or balance them. Having a clear rationale to what you’re trying to achieve will definitely help you with that.

How to best say ‘no’?  Saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be painful in my experience. There are tonnes of reasons to say no to an idea or request, even if it does sound really good or compelling. Learning how to best say no, is one of the key things that I’ve learned over the last few years. Even though saying ‘no’ warrants its own blog post, these are some of my suggested ways in which you can say ‘no’:

  • “We’re not doing that, instead we’re doing this” – “Instead” is the key word here; explaining to others why you’ve decided not to do a certain thing and highlighting what you’re doing instead, its value and rationale. This is where your overarching product vision, strategy and roadmap will come in very handy, as they act as key communication tools.
  • “Let’s look at the expected impact first” – This is a catchphrase for investigating the expected impact of creating a certain feature or solving a specific problem. Whether it’s looking at expected ROI, impact on other systems or cost of delay, the point here is you creating the ability to say ‘no’ in a well informed way, using data where available to assess tradeoffs.

Main learning point: As a product person, I believe there’s so much value that you can offer. Don’t do yourself a disfavour by becoming a Product Janitor, and solely cleaning up someone else’s mess. Having a clear plan for your product and the confidence to say ‘no’ are critical tools in stopping you from becoming a mere custodian of other people’s mess or their unwanted tasks.


Related links for further learning: