China UnionPay, the credit card issuer, is expanding in Europe, rolling out debit and credit cards.
The Financial Times, citing China UnionPay, the world’s largest card issuer, reported it inked a partnership with Tribe Payments, a U.K. tech startup, to enable banks and FinTechs to offer individuals and companies branded cards. The program kicks off in June. UnionPay has been in expansion mode around the globe as it aims to take on Visa and Mastercard. The Financial Times noted that in China it has issued more than six billion cards.
“This agreement shows UnionPay’s intent to compete with the major card schemes in Europe,” said Suresh Vaghjiani, the founder of Tribe, in the FT report. “This is the first time European institutions will be able to put UnionPay cards into the hands of people on the street.” The executive told the paper that it already has two clients interested in UnionPay’s services. One wants to use it for a virtual card in Europe while another is interested in issuing a debit card in the U.K. The executive wouldn’t say which companies have expressed interest. “European corporate clients that do business in China will now be able to use UnionPay cards there, while Chinese businesses in Europe will have a consistent payment method at home and abroad,” Vaghjiani noted in the report.
UnionPay was founded under a charter issued by the People’s Bank of China in 2002. It has been expanding overseas in recent years but has focused mostly in Asia. Currently, its cards are accepted by more than 41 million merchants and two million ATMs in 170 countries. “We have the largest cardholder base in the world; working with issuers through Tribe is important to our growth,” said Zhihong Wei, head of UnionPay in Europe, in the report.
The expansion outside of China comes as UnionPay is facing competition from Ant Financial’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat. For its expansion in Europe, it is forgoing the need for a license by teaming up with third parties, including banks and FinTechs, with transactions handled by payment processing firms like Tribe.