Singapore-based ride-hailing company Grab has teamed up with payments processor Mastercard to issue prepaid cards tailored to the Southeast Asian market.
The cards include a physical card equipped with NFC and EMV chips, and a virtual one with a card number, expiry date, and other data held within the Grab app, according to a joint statement from the two companies.
Customers can top up their cards with cash through agents, drivers, and merchants on the GrabPay platform, and they can use the card for spending at any online and offline merchant where Mastercard is accepted around the world.
The cards will be available from the first half of 2019, starting in Singapore and the Philippines.
The initiative targets unbanked and under-banked users in Southeast Asia, where more than 640 million people conduct their transactions in cash.
The companies hope to leverage on Grab’s 110 million users based on download numbers, and Mastercard’s network of 3 million merchant outlets, Reuters said.
“This partnership with Grab significantly advances our reach in Southeast Asia and aligns with our goal of expanding digital payments across all consumers and merchants,” Mastercard said.
With the partnership, Grab’s mobile payments platform, GrabPay, will become the first e-wallet from Southeast Asia that is accepted around the world.
Initially a taxi-booking and ride-hailing service, Grab is transforming into a consumer technology firm, branching out into food and parcel deliveries, micro-loans and mobile payments.
In June the startup raised US$2 billion in new capital, including a US$1 billion investment from Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. The six-year-old firm is valued at US$11 billion following the deal.
Southeast Asia has seen an intensifying competition in its local financial services field, with local players like Grab and Indonesia’s Go-Jek fighting it out with Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent.
A World Bank research in 2016 found that only 50 percent of adults in the region had an account in a financial institution. About 71 percent of workers in the region were paid their salaries in cash, just 30 percent of adults reported having a debit card, and only 9 percent had a credit card.
Cash is still used extensively in the region, even by people who already have bank accounts.
“What we want to do next is democratize payments and access to financial services,” Reuben Lai, senior managing director at Grab Financial, told TechCrunch in an interview.
“Many consumers don’t have access to the things we take for granted, we want to make these available to our users, drivers, and partners.”
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