WeChat Pay, the in-app payment system of Tencent’s ubiquitous messaging app, has ignited rare controversy over a handling fee.
On June 29, several major universities in China issued statements announcing the use of WeChat Pay on campus would be suspended. This comes as a shock in a society in which digital payments are already deeply ingrained as a part of campus life. From buying lunch in the cafeteria to paying tuition fees, China’s university students can choose from a range of digital payment providers, with Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat the top choices.
According to the statements released by the universities in question, the suspension was due to the introduction of a 0.6% handling fee for “for-profit campus payment scenarios”. Universities did not hesitate to wield their consumer might, decisively acting to “protect the interests of teachers and students”.
This response drew widespread attention on social media, with the topic “multiple institutions of higher education stop using WeChat Pay” clocking up over 450 million views on Weibo (China’s Twitter) in just a few hours.
Many netizens stridently declared they would use other payment providers, whilst others pointed out that the handling fee is extracted from merchants on campus, rather than consumers. “Vigorously promote digital Renminbi!” and “What about going back to cash payments?” were among the comments calling for an overhaul of payment methods.
In an official statement released on Weibo June 29, WeChat explained that “not-for-profit” campus payment scenarios will remain on a 0% fee and apologised for a lack of communication on the matter. “The intention of this adjustment was to implement more refined optimisation of preferential fees, but it led to misunderstandings, which we apologise for and will amend imminently,” the statement read.
“We will continue to optimise the communication process with universities in the future to strengthen cooperation and sustain the development of digitalisation on the main campus.”