The Chinese mainland is set to legalise a popular cash-free payment service used by millions of mobile phone users to ring up trillions of yuan in transactions from luxury shops to roadside restaurants.
An industry consortium has drawn up rules for scan-and-pay QR (quick response) barcode transactions, with the rules likely to take effect by the end of this month, according to industry executives.
The rules drafted by the Payment and Clearing Association of China, an industry group overseen by the central bank, are the latest attempt by regulators to keep pace with the rapidly expanding hi-tech sector as the authorities try to encourage innovation-led growth.
Mainland consumers used their phones to make an estimated 9 trillion yuan (HK$10.5 trillion) in QR code payments last year.
The services are particulary popular for making smaller purchases and leaders in the area include Tencent and Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post.
The government is keen for hi-tech services to flourish but it is also wary of the threat such offerings present to established interests.
The central bank suspended some of the services in 2014, citing security concerns, but they remained popular and many banks tried to get a toehold in the industry.
If the regulations do go into effect, they will follow the introduction last month of rules for online money transfer and payments. Those rules set caps for accounts and strict user identity checks. The mainland has also recently released regulations to legalise car-hailing services.
Ray Lu, from venture capital group Hotung Ventures, said the move to QR code payments was “driven by people’s soaring use of mobile phones to make payment because it is easier and time-efficient”.
“It is also an irreversible trend that internet-based businesses will penetrate all aspects of people’s lives,” Lu said.
Ma Guoguang, deputy general secretary of the payment association, told China Central Television that the rules were aimed at ensuring safety and safeguarding consumer interests.
“In terms of security, QR codes are not as reliable as swiping credit cards,” he said.
Service providers and their devices would be subject to “thorough and meticulous” checks, he said.
Analysts said that the decision to legalise the payment services could lure new players into the market, given its ease and popularity of use.
Thirty-year-old Shanghai resident Li Xiaoxiao said she could get anything she wanted in the financial capital using her mobile phone. “Internet technologies offer easier access to the things we desire,” Li said. “It is a right decision by the government to liberalise and legalise all services based on mobile internet.”