Russian Qiwi plans a new payment system for Western Europe

Leading Russian payment operator Qiwi is in talks with Western European mobile operators, including Orange, Vodafone and Telefonica, about launching a new, offline payment system for mobile phone bills in Europe. The Russian operator is also considering entering the US market, Russian daily RBC Daily reported yesterday.

Since 2004, Qiwi has developed a network of offline electronic payment terminals that are now widely available throughout Russia. Russians have grown accustomed to paying for virtually everything through these terminals, from mobile phone bills, orders at e-commerce sites, utilities, taxes, and fines. Under the brand Qiwi employs more than 110 000 terminals located throughout Russia.

Operating on mature western markets won’t be that simple, however. While most Russians pre-pay mobile services in cash – through Qiwi or other systems – a majority of Western mobile subscribers are billed through their bank account, a convenience that makes offline payment terminals significantly less relevant.

In addition, integrating a totally new payment system to the already established billing systems used by Western mobile operators could represent a technical challenge, admitted a QIWI representative in the exchange with RBC Daily. Specific adaptations will be required for each different operator.

Deploying offline payment terminals in Western European cities, however, will allow Qiwi to offer a diversified payment offer. Mobile bills could be just a first step in Qiwi’s international expansion strategy.

Qiwi already operates in a number of countries outside Russia, from former Soviet republics and China to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last January, Japanese holding company Mitsui & Co. bought a 15% share in the company, announcing a “potential opportunity” for the company’s development in new countries, including the US.

Over the last few years, Qiwi has also grown online through its electronic wallets. As a result, it has trended towards becoming a universal payment system allowing its users to transfer money to or from their accounts at banks, mobile operators, and virtual currencies.

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