With America readier than ever to close the liquidity taps on rivals, China is investing time and money in building a private track. It has rolled out its own payments messaging system to complement SWIFT, and Alibaba and Tencent have already built “parallel banking systems” with over 1bn wallets (users) each that account for half of in-store payments and nearly three-quarters of web sales in China.
Tencent and Alibaba’s greatest impact, however, may have been to awaken another giant. Ping An, a Chinese insurer with $1trn in assets, decided to become a cloud company after seeing their meteoric rise in finance, says Jonathan Larsen, its innovation chief. The company, which invests 1% of its revenue—worth $164bn last year—in research and development, has spawned 32 stand-alone businesses to help export the tech it hones at home. The most strategic of its offspring is probably OneConnect, the startup that listed in New York in December. The firm offers cloud-based services that cover everything, from back-office to client-facing tasks. Its first foreign outpost, opened in 2018 in Singapore, has grown to 200 staff. It now serves 47 clients in 16 overseas markets.