The most widely used Chinese applications bring together messaging, shopping and payment in one place. The proposal of this Spanish company is to adopt this model and offer an opportunity for businesses that want to reach their users more easily and internationalise their scope.
The world is looking with increasing interest at how China is positioning itself as the global economic and technological centre of gravity. In February, the Asian giant dethroned the United States as the main recipient of direct foreign investment for the first time, according to UN data. The second largest economy on the planet, which looks set to outperform the US in 2028, is also the largest exporter in the world. But what else can we import in the West, beyond products and services? Innovative ideas.
China has a user-centred digital system that centralises people’s communications and actions. We’re talking about ‘superapps’, a new digital model that brings together everything users need in a single application. The most well-known example is WeChat, which is much more than an app for messaging and social media. As the app’s installation platform says, “it’s a lifestyle for more than a billion users worldwide”. It’s also the preferred option of many people for making payments, as is Alipay, an online mobile payment platform developed in China.
These types of applications that centralise the whole user experience and the booming Asian ecosystem represent an opportunity for Europe and Latin America. That’s why Spanish startup Tantum, who are specialists in Asian markets, are helping their customers implement these kinds of services and grow their business in Asia. This potential to enliven the economy and generate business has led to the consultancy being chosen to join the Madrid local authority’s El Despertador acceleration programme for SMEs and freelancers, for which BBVA acts as a mentor.
“The proposal in Asia has a great deal of potential to encourage Oriental people to consume when they come to Spain, and also to incorporate it into the social networks of our Spanish companies”, says Nacho Villoch, Ecosystem Builder at BBVA Open Innovation, who was a judge on the selection panel for winners of El Despertador and is one of the programme’s mentors.
The founding partners of Tantum – Zigor Nuere, José Javier Castrillo, Álvaro Fontaneda and Paco Rodríguez-Acosta – have been connected with China for years, and established the company in 2018. Nuere, who lived there for 11 years, explains that his aim is “to provide Western companies with all the knowledge we have acquired so that they can access that market and bring that ecosystem from Asia to Europe”.
In light of the leadership of the Asian continent, these entrepreneurs are committed to drawing inspiration from their developments, as Rodríguez-Acosta, President of the startup, explains: “If we copy their model, we can build a bridge with China and create opportunities”.
These opportunities include making it easier for Asian tourists to spend money in Spain, as Castrillo notes: “We’re developing a kind of micro-programme that runs within the WeChat app. For example, without leaving that familiar ecosystem of a restaurant or a business, tourists can find what they want to purchase or consume within their app”. This not only overcomes the language barrier and facilitates payment, it also helps to activate local consumption thanks to the payment processor Starpay, another company in which Tantum has a 50% share.
“Without a doubt it’s a facilitator and an opportunity for it to be easier to interact with customers and to enliven the economy”, adds Villoch from BBVA Open Innovation.
However, digitisation in Asia is more than that. For the partners at Tantum the next step is to integrate and interconnect the ecosystem. “In Spain, what happens after you pay with your card in a shop? Nothing. In China, everything is connected – the business can ping you promotions and vouchers, you can send a gift to a friend or they can offer you a discounted coffee at the café next door”, explains Nuere, summing it up by saying: “In these ecosystems, customer information is not lost.” Also, the information is protected because “all the actions you generate are accepted and validated by the user”.
For this reason, at Tantum they want to go further and are developing “a proprietary application where businesses will be able to register their shop, meaning that tourists and locals will be able to benefit from this integrated experience”, explains Rodríguez-Acosta. A kind of marketplace where there’ll be space for bars, pharmacies, small shops and any SME that wants to improve the consumer journey.
Tantum also helps its customers to position themselves in national and international browsers to raise a profile in the Asian market with marketing and positioning campaigns. Nuere explains how they evolved during 2020: “At first, the pandemic affected us because we were very focused on tourism, but now we’ve shifted our attention towards boosting local trade and helping businesses become international. It’s a way to weather the storm and improve sales and visibility.”
Another sector where a proposition like Tantum’s has a great deal of potential is education. Their application can eradicate difficulties such as not having a bank account in Spain or China respectively, so that the processes for students are much faster and simpler.
In this case, education knows no crisis, and the pandemic has not brought learning to a halt. On the contrary, there is increasing demand for online classes. “With a university, we’ve integrated into an ecosystem like WeChat an online shop where courses can be displayed and students can pay directly. This increases visibility and speeds up the formalities”, explains Nuere.
With more than 120 customers around the globe, Tantum is preparing for the future. Seeing the new steps taken by WhatsApp so that purchases can be made from within the chat itself, Castrillo predicts that in 2025 “the Chinese model will be the order of the day in Europe”. Now we have to analyse what challenges and opportunities this presents for the financial system.
For Rodríguez-Acosta, “banking in 2025 will support businesses not only as a means of payment, but so that they have more visibility, so that customers and end users are aware of them, can share their product and transfer it to other countries”. That’s why Tantum is committed to being a catalyst for new business and transforming the value proposition of banking.
At BBVA Open Innovation, Nacho Villoch points to banks as “the factor that will add trust to these types of platforms, as well as being the payment gateway that provides security and transparency”. BBVA and the other organisations that are taking part in El Despertador for SMEs and freelancers have six months ahead of them during which time they will support Tantum and the other winning startups, with the aim of carrying out proofs of concept and validating their products.
In an increasingly globalised world, technology and open innovation can help to reduce potential differences. Now, ‘superapps’ and borderless strategies are building bridges between Asia, Europe and the rest of the world to further enhance users’ experience of the financial system of the future.