Imagine a truly borderless world in which individuals and companies can conduct business and make payments that completely transcend geographical limitations. That’s exactly the future ECARD Inc. envisions and helps to build. Incorporated in 2017, the New York–based startup is dedicated to innovating advanced financial technologies with a goal of enabling frictionless transactions beyond countries and regions. As its first product, ECARD is a UnionPay prepaid card that, for the first time in the industry of payment solutions, allows global travelers to transact in a cashless and seamless manner.
Prior to the event, we caught up with Kim Tong, chief operating officer of ECARD Inc., to talk about the story behind the company and how she sees the future of fintech.
SupChina: What’s the story of ECARD? Where did the idea come from? What’s its vision and what problem does it solve?
Tong: ECARD’s origins are very closely tied to our mission and vision as a company. The idea came from a pain point that a lot of us who regularly travel to China face: payments. As anyone who has traveled to China will tell you, trying to pay in China outside of major hotels is a nightmare for foreign travelers. Most Chinese merchants will only accept UnionPay cards, essentially rendering all the credit/debit cards in a foreigner’s wallet useless. This was a very frustrating problem for many of us, since it is very difficult for U.S. citizens to obtain a UnionPay card prior to arriving in China. Thus, when we came across the opportunity to work with UnionPay to issue cards in the U.S., we naturally saw the huge potential in this partnership and its ability to solve our payment issues in China. Thus, ECARD was founded, with a vision to create a more seamless and enjoyable experience for Americans traveling to Asia, and especially to China.
SupChina: How did you get Global Bank and UnionPay on board? What’s your selling point to them?
Tong: True to our mission as a company, we served as the bridge between the U.S. and China in starting up this partnership that resulted in ECARD. In this case, UnionPay represents China, and Global Bank represents the U.S. UnionPay was very receptive to Global Bank as the issuing bank, since it is a partner that is deeply rooted in the Asian-American community. The bank was formed by a group of civic-minded Chinese-American businesspeople, and is locally owned and headquartered in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown. Born and built in this environment, ECARD Inc. also deeply shares the same understanding of Asian culture and the issues and pains associated with migrants and cross-border payments as economic globalization has increased in the last decade. Thus, all three partners in this venture felt comfortable and confident in this partnership.
SupChina: How did ECARD land a partnership with Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)? What’s the thinking behind it?
Tong: Partnering with one of the largest travel associations was a natural decision for us, since our product is largely aimed at U.S. travelers to Asia. So when the opportunity to partner with PATA arose, we were more than happy to take it, as we believe there is a lot of synergy between PATA and ECARD.
SupChina: According to your press release, the prepaid card is part of the first phase in the development of your Smart Wallet. What’s next?
Tong: Yes, ECARD is our first product that we have rolled out already, but we are currently developing our mobile payment technology platform, EC Life, with the goal of both creating a smart wallet app that streamlines the whole payment process for our customers, as well as advancing and transforming the payments industry here in the U.S. It’s all very exciting, but a lot of it is still a work in progress, so unfortunately we can’t reveal much more than that at this moment.
SupChina: ECARD is fully funded by Chinese-American investors. How does its Chinese background influence its goals?
Tong: Part of ECARD’s vision is to help bridge the cultural gap between the U.S. and China. As Chinese Americans, we believe there is still a lot of misunderstanding and lack of accurate knowledge on both sides, and so we want to help facilitate and increase healthier dialogue and interactions between the two largest economic entities in this world. As Mark Twain famously said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”; we at ECARD couldn’t agree more, which is why we want to encourage more and more travel between the U.S. and China, while doing our best to make that travel experience as seamless and convenient as possible.
SupChina: How were you drawn to the field of fintech?
Tong: Well, to put it bluntly, fintech represents the future. It is already rapidly transforming the business and financial landscape, and the trend will only continue to grow and fundamentally change the lifestyle of consumers around the world. Knowing this, I realized that I definitely wanted to be a part of this trend, and be a part of the team that shapes the future of fintech. It is truly an exciting field to be in, and to see the potentials in this industry being realized through our work is very fulfilling to me.
SupChina: What’s been the most inspiring experience you’ve had in the fintech space thus far?
Tong: I definitely think the people I’ve met and worked with in this field have been the most inspiring part of my journey in fintech thus far. I see innovators and brilliant minds working tirelessly and passionately every day to bring their vision to life, which is very much inspiring to me personally. And of course, working at ECARD has been an absolutely amazing experience as well; to be able to work alongside such talented and driven young individuals at the company really pushes me to be a better leader and a more fearless dreamer.
SupChina: As you think about this industry, what changes do you think fintech technology will accelerate in our world?
Tong: More and more consumers these days utilize technology for any and all aspects of their life, including banking and finances. Personal finance apps such as Intuit’s Mint, robo-advisers Betterment/Wealthfront, and even just large banks’ mobile apps have been rapidly gaining widespread popularity. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the fight for customers amongst banks has largely shifted to the mobile space, with smaller banks struggling to compete with larger institutions like Chase due to the large banks’ ability to roll out great mobile banking apps that customers place so much importance on these days. Smaller banks will likely have to open up and have more APIs to integrate and partner with third-party payment services in order to gain more revenue streams and stay competitive. P2P mobile payments have also increasingly gained traction as well, with fintech companies like Venmo leading the charge. All of these trends point to the fact the fintech industry has undoubtedly changed the financial landscape, forcing banks and other financial institutions to integrate with various technologies to provide the streamlined experiences and convenience that consumers today have come to expect.