When expats return home and miss the ease of ‘app life’ in China, there are some options to help the reverse culture shock

By Mike Elias Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/24 17:23:39

Square Cash appears to be the clear winner in terms of providing WeChat-level functionality in the US and other Western countries. Photo: IC



It is the time of year when many expats leave China and return to their home countries for the summer. There are many difficulties for expats in China, but there is one app that makes their lives easier that is not used elsewhere - WeChat. After they are back, they begin to look for apps which have similar functions as WeChat. Below are some of the most favored ones.

Expats hope to find a payment app as convenient as WeChat after they leave China and return home. Photo: IC



1. Square Cash - WeChat Score: 4.5 out of 5

Square Cash allows people to send money instantly, even to strangers, using only their "cashtag," or username. The personal account charges no fee to send or receive money, so it can be used just like WeChat to send money between friends. You can also transfer funds from Square Cash to your bank account for free.

Square Cash deals with the fact that Western businesses generally are not equipped to process mobile payments. Whereas in China, where WeChat QR codes take care of everything, Square Cash does the following:

1) Square Cash will ship you a free debit card to use with your Square Cash account. This allows you to make purchases at stores and businesses from your Square Cash balance, just like from your WeChat wallet.

2) Square Cash will ship you a free debit/credit card reader to process point-of-sale payments. However, using this with a business account costs a 2.75 percent fee to receive payments.

Square Cash is thus able to perform two of the WeChat features that are most difficult to find in the West - making purchases at stores and businesses and receiving payments from customers.

Of the five main features we love from WeChat, Square Cash comes very close to having all of them in one form or another:

- Instant transactions

- No fees (unless using a business account)

- Make purchases at stores and businesses (using the free Square Cash debit card)

- Receive payments as a business (using the free Square Card Reader)

- Send money to anyone (using their cashtag)

2. Apple Pay - WeChat Score: 3 out of 5

Apple Pay is a mobile wallet. It uses near-field communication technology that allows you to simply swipe your phone to make a payment. Unlike most Western mobile payment apps, Apple Pay has agreements with over 700,000 vendors. The convenience of making point-of-sale payments rivals WeChat's QR code scanner. However, Apple Pay is only a wallet, which means it cannot be used to receive payments or to send money to friends.

- Instant transactions

- No fees

- Make point-of-sale purchases at stores and businesses (near-field communication, over 700,000 vendors)

Bonus features: Touch fingerprint security, works with Apple Watch

3. Android Pay - WeChat Score: 3 out of 5

Android Pay features many of the best attributes of Apple Pay, including near-field technology that allows for super-convenient point-of-sale purchases at numerous vendors. Android Pay also holds gift cards and loyalty cards, making it a bit easier to rack up points with loyalty programs.

- Instant transactions

- No fees

- Make point-of-sale purchases at stores and businesses

Bonus features: Includes gift cards and loyalty cards

4. Google Wallet - WeChat Score: 3 out of 5

Google Wallet gives users the ability to send money to email contacts by adding payments as Gmail attachments. Google Wallet used to be more robust, and with all of these features combined, it would have been a serious contender to Square Cash in terms of imitating WeChat. Instead, Android Pay became Google's response to Apple Pay, and Google Wallet was repurposed only as a means of sending money between contacts.

- Instant transactions

- No fees

- Send money to anyone (using their email address or phone number)

5. Paypal - WeChat Score: 2.5 out of 5

Paypal is the original "granddaddy" of online payments. However, its mobile payment system leaves something to be desired. While it works with most online stores, few businesses allow point-of-sale Paypal payments. Paypal allows you to link debit and credit cards and also links directly to your bank accounts. Transfers are free if your Paypal is linked to a bank account, but a 2.9 percent fee applies if using a card (for business transactions, the receiver pays; for peer-to-peer, the sender decides who pays). Compared to its up-and-coming competitors, this fee is on the high side.

- Instant transactions

- No fees (if using a bank account)

- Send money to anyone

Bonus features: Works with most online stores

6. Venmo - WeChat Score: 2.5 out of 5

Venmo is one of the new favorites of millennials in the US and the UK. It operates through Paypal, but it is free to send and receive money instantly unless you are using a non-major credit or debit card, in which case a 3 percent fee applies. Venmo's main purpose is to send money between friends, as there is no option to send money to merchants or receive money from customers. Therefore, Venmo cannot be used for point-of-sale or business transactions.

- Instant transactions

- No fees (unless using non-major credit or debit card)

- Send money to anyone (using their email address or phone number)

Bonus features: One of the most popular mobile payment apps among millennials in the US

7. Facebook Messenger - WeChat Score: 2 out of 5

Facebook Messenger boasts instant, free transfers, just like WeChat. However, you can only send money to Facebook friends, which drastically limits your ability to use it for any kind of business transaction. By linking a debit card with your Facebook account, you can receive transfers from others, but there is no Facebook platform for paying for or receiving point-of-sale transactions. On the plus side, many people use Facebook and Facebook Messenger already, so no additional apps, user accounts, passwords and sign-ups would be needed.

- Instant transactions

- No fees

Bonus features: Most Facebook users already have it

8. Dwolla - WeChat Score: 2 out of 5

Dwolla allows users to send money to people listed in their mobile phone's contact list. Dwolla only links with bank accounts, so debit and credit card transactions are not available. Transactions are free and instant, but there is no option for receiving payments from customers, sending money to strangers or making point-of-sale payments.

- Instant transactions

- No fees

Bonus features: Make online purchases with participating vendors, donate to nonprofits, schedule multiple payments at once (such as monthly bills, allowances to kids, etc.), high transaction limit ($5,000 per transaction)

9. Circle - WeChat Score: 1.5 out of 5

Circle uses Bitcoin for its backend transactions, which gives users the ability to send money anywhere in the world in US dollars, Euros or British pounds without paying currency exchange fees. Transfers are instant and free if you link the app to a debit card or bank account (for credit card transactions, a processing fee applies). However, you can only send money to people in your contact list, and there is no provision for receiving payments as a business.

- Instant transactions

- No fees (unless using credit card)

Bonus features: Allows transfer of USD, Euro or GBP without currency exchange fees

Conclusion

Square Cash appears to be the clear winner in terms of providing WeChat-level functionality in the US and other Western countries.

One feature notably missing from all of the apps is a QR code reader - the point-of-sale solution for a vast number of China's WeChat merchants. Closely related to this is the feature whereby your own mobile wallet is converted into a QR code for merchants to scan, which is also missing. Airports and event venues in the West already use QR scanners to validate tickets, so why has this technology not extended to mobile payment systems and merchants?

With the Western world firmly in the grasp of the credit/debit card age, WeChat is in a class all its own. Expats returning from China will have a hunger to transform the mobile payment landscape and unlock all of the convenience and flexibility it truly allows. We should not forget what we have seen in China, our economies will thank us for it!
Newspaper headline: Western alternatives to WeChat


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