Tencent invests in Easy Transfer to amp up cross-border payments ambition

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Tencent has invested in Easy Transfer, a startup that aims to make tuition payments less stressful for hundreds of thousands of overseas Chinese students.

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Tencent declined to comment for the story, but Easy Transfer founder and CEO Tony Gao told Nerdshala that the internet giant now owns about 5% of his company. The investment, which closed in December, is the first tranche of Easy Transfer’s ongoing Series C funding round. IDG Capital and ZenFund are early investors in the startup.

Easy Transfer itself does not handle transactions directly; Instead, it works with financial institutions with licenses for cross-border payments in China. The startup’s value-added, Gao said in a previous interview, is to make remittances hassle-free. In the old practice, parents and students would visit a bank, fill out a plethora of forms, double-check routing information, and wait nervously for tuition to be deposited in a university account on time.

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With Easy Transfer, users fill out a straightforward form online and the startup takes care of the rest for a fee of up to 200 yuan ($31).

Through Tencent’s strategic investment, Easy Transfer hopes to further improve its user experience. The partners have jointly developed a WeChat-based learning dispatch service called WeRemit. Unlike the millions of third-party Lite apps inside WeChat’s ecosystem, WeRemit is partly powered by WeChat, with deep support from the messaging giant.

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“From anti-money laundering, identity verification to information security, WeChat makes cross-border payment transactions more secure,” Gao said. “The vast amount of user data owned by WeChat allows it to create a robust risk management system that even banks cannot match.”

Before moving the money, WeRemit will ask users to scan their faces to confirm their identities and collect their personal information, data that is already stored on WeChat. Internet platforms in China are required to verify people’s real identities before enabling core features such as mobile payments and content posting.

WeChat’s AI-based financial compliance system is also in the works. Machine learning is used to identify and decipher documents submitted to WeRemit, such as tuition bills, offer letters and visa information. The system can also mark high risk transactions for manual review and compare the bill amount with the number due to avoid overpayment.

WeRemit’s service Tenpay, the online payments arm of Tencent, also powers Messenger’s digital wallet WeChat Pay. Upon receiving transactions from users, Tenpay, which has a license for cross-border transactions, sends money to one of the 2,000 universities that accept Easy Transfer.

Connecting with WeChat, which has a ubiquitous presence in China, can greatly expand the reach of Easy Transfer. According to GAO, the startup served 120,000 students over the past year and processed more than $2 billion in transactions. It is now targeting the 500,000 users WeChat tags as “foreign students.” According to the Ministry of Education, about 700,000 Chinese students studied abroad in 2019.

For Tencent, the partnership with Easy Transfer could help diversify its breadth of cross-border fintech services beyond targeting outbound tourists. GAO wants to replicate the model of Easy Transfer in the rest of Asia, particularly in South and Southeast Asia. The plan is to capture the growing population of foreign students in countries such as India, Nepal and Vietnam. The founder said that families in these countries have similar pain points in tuition transfers and are even more vulnerable.

Overseas expansion has proved challenging for Tencent, and the firm has relied largely on strategic investments to expand its influence overseas. Case in point is the vast portfolio of video game companies. Tencent supported a number of fintech service providers across Asia, including Grab. Tencent can hook up EZ Transfer with the right local partner with the necessary licenses to send money abroad, Gao said, and EZ Transfer will focus on building a local team and easy-to-use products like WeRemit.

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