Alibaba’s Ant Financial Just Launched a Blockchain-based Remittance Service

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Though Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma may think Bitcoin is in a bubble, the firm still believes in blockchain, the technology underlying cryptocurrencies.

Ant Financial, Alibaba’s $150 billion financial affiliate, launched a blockchain-based service that lets Hong Kong’s large Filipino working population send funds to family back home quickly and securely. For now, the program is in a three-month trial period during which transaction fees will be waived.

"We are very excited to introduce this new remittance solution to our users in Hong Kong, and in particular to the Filipino community in the city," said Jennifer Tan, CEO of Alipay Payment Services in Hong Kong. "What used to be a long process of physically going to a remittance booth, queuing in line for hours and filling out forms, is now easily and securely done over the mobile phone in just a few seconds.”

The blockchain-based service is being launched in tandem with Standard Chartered and GCash, Ant’s partnership with Philippines’ Global Telecom

Blockchain technology, a ledger of constantly updating transactions held by multiple parties, has become the buzzword among financial institutions in recent years. Its believers say that it has the potential to cheapen, speed up, and increase the security of transactions.

During the unveiling of the feature, provided on mobile apps GCash and Ant Financial’s Alipay, a Filipino worker in Hong Kong demonstrated her ability to transfer funds in three seconds. Such remittances are a significant portion of income for Filipino workers--representing about 10.2% of the Philipplines’ GDP in 2016, according to data from the World Bank. In 2017, Filipinos sent about $33 billion back home, making it the world’s third-largest market for remittances.

It’s perhaps part of the reason why several companies, not only those in the cryptocurrency space, have sought to speed up remittances--disrupting an industry dominated by the likes of MoneyGram and Western Union. Toast, a Singapore-based startup, for example, says it can send remittances home in under two minutes. The firm serves both Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Alibaba’s rival, Tencent, has also launched a Hong Kong-Philippines remittance service through its app, WeChat. EMQ CEO Max Liu, a tech startup that worked with Tencent to develop the service, said the transfers took under 10 minutes.