Why 2018 is the year to get on WeChat

Happy New Year!

While back in the UK over Christmas, I was a bit befuddled at the local Co-op when seeing my pound coins rejected as I paid for a Pain au Chocolat (a pastry that I highly recommend). I was told by the cashier that there were new pound coins now.

And sure enough there were: shiny round things happily joining our fancy new banknotes. Ok, that’s not entirely true. They were shiny bumpy round things. Round, but not quite. A bit like our planet.

The Bumpy Round Pound Coins, featuring 12 sides, are such a departure from the old, somewhat heavier, version that they are described as a “big leap” by the Royal Mint’s chief engraver in a lengthy page on Wired.

But as I admired the Big Leap Bumpy Round Pound Coins shining in my palm, I couldn’t help but think of China’s cashless revolution and how mobile apps were replacing their (not so shiny) money. Our leap was “big”. Their’s? (Don’t say Great Leap.)

WeChat is the darling of China’s cashless society, coming a long way since the time it was a mere casual dating app (give your phone a shake to discover a random person nearby, and erm..well, whatever happened next, happened next). It’s China’s answer to Facebook, which ironically also started life as a dating platform of sorts.

Now with more gizmos than the average 007 Aston Martin, WeChat continues to evolve. It probably won’t be long before China’s space command centre uses the app somewhere in its planned lunar landing.

WeChat’s popularity is such that The Guardian has noticed, with a piece on owner Tencent:

As the UK pivots east towards Asia, and possibly south towards Africa and maybe even Central Asia (and now I’m really making this up), WeChat is going to figure quite prominently in the coming years.

China is planning to build roads, railroads and, ah, sea roads in their trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, meaning that WeChat will have a role in all of these infrastructure projects – not just for chitchat but for sending and receiving money. That’s a big deal.

Anyone heading east to work in places like China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia will sooner or later have to install WeChat owing to the popularity of the app. Belt and Road will increase WeChat’s exposure further, so to these countries we can add Egypt, Kazakshstan, Kenya and Uzbekistan, among others.

And even if we don’t pack our bags, will will probably have to download it anyway when communicating with our farflung colleagues and business partners in Asia: WeChat is increasingly used for voice and video calls – rather like Skype.

Lest you start thinking this is a puff piece for WeChat, consider this: partly because of its versatility, WeChat is a tad complicated. It’s not as user-friendly as WhatsApp or Facebook (and I’m not getting started on WeChat for brands), and can feel quirky at times.

Which is another reason to start now – to get a feel for it before it takes off in earnest.

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