Money & Power

PayMaya, PayPal, GCash, and More: Your Guide to Digital Payment Systems in the Philippines

If you’re ready to try and join this century, here are some of the leading cashless, digital and online payment platforms waiting for you.
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Still paying in cash? Perhaps it's time to join leading economies in the 21st century. Leave your wallet at home and just take your mobile phone with you. With the right apps, you can buy nearly everything, anywhere.

In Shenzhen, China, if you randomly stop people on the street and ask them when was the last time they paid with cash, they would have a hard time remembering. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the Chinese settle most purchases using their mobile phone, and alternate between two leading apps, WeChat and Alipay.

In London, the chip-enabled Clever Cup allows caffeine lovers to get their daily dose of coffee without using cash. A partnership between Costa Coffee and Barclays, the chip located in the base of the cup activates contactless payments, and users can load credits via a mobile phone app. More than the convenience, they are also saving the environment with the reusable mug.

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In Stockholm, Sweden, pay-per-use public bathrooms do not want your coins or bills. One has to pay via mobile phone and wait for a code that is good for one-time use to open a battery-operated gadget attached to the bathroom door.  If all you have is cash, sorry, you’ll just have to hold it in.

While the Philippines may not be among the world’s top 10 cashless countries, the wave of digital payments has also hit our shores. In our country of some 106 million Filipinos, less than two percent own credit cards according to the 2017 World Bank Global Findex. But don’t let that very low penetration for electronic payment fool you into thinking we are not ready for online payments. In the same Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Financial Inclusion Dashboard as of the 3rd quarter 2018, over 25 percent of adults polled confirmed they have made or received digital payments. That means one in every four adults has experienced paying or being paid with digital currency. These figures come from a nationally representative study that collected data from Filipino adults aged 15 and above.

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If you’re ready to try and join this century, here are some of the leading cashless, digital and online payment platforms waiting for you. And because they are all trying to change consumer behavior, some offer sweeteners so you can get exclusive discounts and rebates if you know where to find it.

PayPal

Remember eBay? Before shopping websites and online selling platforms exploded on the Internet, there was only eBay, and its main payments provider was PayPal.

It was the late 1990s and at that time, consumers were wary about Internet security and stories of identity theft were cropping up everywhere. PayPal sought to address those concerns by offering a more secure way to shop online.  

When you open a PayPal account, you link it to your bank account or to a debit or credit card. Instead of paying with your credit card or bank account details, you use your PayPal account so the seller will not see your account number and allow you to sleep a little better at night.

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One more draw for PayPal is its Buyer Protection policy. Say you bought an item overseas and it does not arrive, or it shows up but is significantly different from what is described, they’ll refund the full amount. Not many credit cards offer this, nor online sellers so one more win for PayPal and of course, the consumer.

Two decades later, PayPal has grown from what was largely an online middleman between sellers and buyers, to a platform where users can get paid for services (if you’re a freelance writer or designer), or entrepreneurs can accept payments through their websites. The PayPal platform also now includes other mobile and web payment solutions including Braintree, Venmo and Xoom.

GCash

One of the pioneers in the Philippine digital payment industry, GCash is powered by Globe Telecom. It’s a mobile money service that lets users using any networks (not just Globe’s) to buy prepaid phone load, purchase items, send and receive money, pay bills, book movie tickets, and many others using only their mobile phone.

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You can register for an account by downloading the app, dialing *143# from your mobile phone or through Facebook Messenger. If you’re new to digital payments, you may find GCash easier because it also offers the option to access your digital wallet with a physical card through GCash MasterCard or Amex.

To fund your GCash Wallet (or convert regular cash to GCash), you’ll need to Cash-In through several partners that include banks, remittance centers, pawnshops, department stores and convenience stores. The best option would be to Cash-In through 7-Eleven or any other partners that do not charge a service fee. If you go to BPI and RCBC, you have to pay P1.00 each time you Cash-In.

Now, if you want to Cash-Out or withdraw funds, you can go to the same partner outlets, or use your GCash Mastercard to transact at any BancNet or Mastercard ATMs. There is also the option to transfer GCash funds to a BPI Savings Account, simply by dialing *119# on your phone. According to the GCash website, there is no fee for cashing out, plus they do not require a minimum balance too.

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GCash services continue to expand since its 2004 launch. Now users can shop at U.S. stores with GCash American Express, a virtual credit card, that assigns them a free U.S. address from My Shopping Box. Most recently, GCash QR became available where users can simply scan the QR code at the counter of partner merchants to pay.  And to get you to try it, GCash is dangling a 10 percent cashback for every transaction.

PayMaya

Smart and PLDT may be late to the game but their aggressive push for digital payments has turned PayMaya into a strong contender. It offers nearly the same product and services as GCash and it has pretty much the same partners when you want to add money or payout. PayMaya is also network-agnostic, so you can use any Philippine mobile number to register.

To capture market share, PayMaya teams up with companies so salaries of employees can be paid through their app. From there, users can do nearly everything online: shop for clothes and gadgets; book flights and accommodations; buy concert tickets; and send money to anyone with a PayMaya account. If you and your family and friends are all users, it makes it easier to distribute your children’s allowance or split bills when dining at restaurants.  For better monitoring of your use, PayMaya sends an SMS notification after every transaction.

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You can use the PayMaya physical card to pay at establishments that accept credit or debit cards. It works here and abroad and it’s embedded with an EMV chip for greater security. You can link the physical card to the PayMaya app so that it shares one wallet with your virtual card, and you can view all your transactions in-app.

Based on its website, there is a charge of at least 1.5 percent for every Smart Money or Smart Padala to PayMaya add money transaction. But there are no fees when you add money through its other partners. If you payout using the physical card, a withdrawal fee of P15 applies.

A wide range of promotions is listed on the PayMaya website, including as much as 100 percent cashback when shopping online or using its QR code, and discounts for flights, hotels and tours from travel websites.

Google Pay

Now take the convenience of GCash and PayMaya and make it borderless, and you have Google Pay. Apple Pay is not yet available in the Philippines, but Google Pay more than makes up for it.

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No online platform can be more agnostic than Google, and Google Pay essentially means you can pay for anything with Google wherever you are. That covers physical stores, in-app purchases, online shopping, and of course anything you need from Google too. 

Sadly, not all features in Google Pay are available yet in the Philippines, but so far I’ve been able to use it to buy electronic books for Google Play, and upgrade to more storage space for Gmail. Like PayPal, Google Pay will need to be linked to your bank or credit card accounts, and you can also store other information on it like airline or train tickets purchased, even loyalty cards. The end goal here is to strip away all the things you have to carry in your wallet so you will leave all that at home and only keep your mobile phone, loaded with Google of course.

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One bonus I personally like—Google Pay follows you wherever you log on to Google, that means your tablet, your laptop and desktop too.

GrabPay

Are you familiar with the ride-booking company Grab? If you travel around Southeast Asia, you can’t miss this welcome alternative to taxis. No need to wait outside in the heat or rain, then have to beg drivers to take you as a paying passenger as you negotiate a premium on the meter fee.  From your mobile phone, open the Grab app and you can hail a range of transportation options—from a taxi to a standard sedan to six-seater vans to premium SUVs.

While many users still pay cash for Grab services, some use their credit cards or the latest option called GrabPay. As the name suggests, GrabPay can only be used with the Grab app, at least for the time being.

To load up GrabPay credits, users can go to a bank, or partner stores, charge to their credit card, or hand over cash to a GrabPay Driver. If you’re looking for an incentive, Grab offers double loyalty points for users who use GrabPay (versus cash or credit card).

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Aneth Ng-Lim
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