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WorldFirst is modernizing its payment and financial solutions to better serve merchants venturing abroad

In 2013, fueled by the dream of striking gold, Wang Hao and his college roommate moved from Harbin to Shenzhen to delve into e-commerce. When the duo made their first big break at a Singles’ Day event in mid-2010, they were convinced of the enormous potential of cross-border e-commerce, unaware of the challenges they faced.

Disastrous sales due to poor product selection and prolonged legal disputes resulting from fire losses are just the tip of the iceberg. While setting up warehouses overseas for his initial overseas venture, Wang lost over RMB 80,000 ($11,000) worth of goods.

Wang’s company now has annual revenues exceeding RMB 40 million (USD 5.5 million). Recalling his journey, he said that focusing on good products that may have high inventory turnover is more important than just profits. However, access to reliable international payment and financial services remains a challenge facing small and medium-sized enterprises, increasing pressure on already low profit margins.

Removing trade barriers

At the WorldFirst Ecosystem Summit on May 8 in Shenzhen, Clara Shi, CEO of WorldFirst, announced an update to the company’s cross-border payments and finance toolkit for merchants. Thanks to WorldFirst, China’s SMEs can now open a multi-currency account to access currencies used in 200 countries and regions, streamlining cross-border transactions for greater transparency and reducing potential losses incurred due to risk and currency fluctuations.

Notably, WorldFirst account holders in China can now receive payments in over 30 currencies, up from the previous 14, with 80% of them offering same-day transactions. Additionally, payments can now be made in over 100 currencies, up from 41, with 90% supporting same-day transactions and RMB settlements.

“In volatile economic conditions and intense competition, Chinese sellers can now grow, manage and transact with a single account,” Shi told the over a thousand sellers and ecosystem partners in attendance, underscoring the company’s focus on financial inclusion. Traditionally, financial services providers have not served SME clients due to lack of scale. WorldFirst fills this gap by offering cross-border payment and financial services for businesses of all sizes, including credit enhancement services, unsecured credit lending, insurance and more.

Additionally, WorldFirst enhances the security of customer transactions by partnering with banks and financial institutions, including eight “Globally Systemically Important Banks” (G-SIBs). The company has a significant industry track record in fraud prevention.

A company that has benefited as a result is Xinhuanya, a Shenzhen-based company that sells a variety of goods such as car accessories and home decorations to Southeast Asian markets through cross-border platforms. Hu Xiongfei, deputy general manager of Xinhuanya, said the huge expansion of cross-border trade has attracted more companies to enter the market, which creates serious challenges for others that lack differentiation.

Photo of a warehouse operated by Xinhuanya. Photo credit: Ant International.

Hu believes that by leveraging digital tools, companies can respond and adapt quickly. “When choosing a cross-border payments company, we consider factors such as fees, timeliness, exchange rates and brand reputation,” Hu said. “With cross-border fund management and digital financial solutions provided by WorldFirst within Ant Group, we can transact efficiently, securely and compliantly, significantly improving the performance of our experts around the world.”

With WorldFirst, Chinese merchants like Xinhuanya can conveniently access a myriad of financial services, enabling efficient and comprehensive management of both master and subsidiary accounts, as well as transactions with global business partners, as well as upstream and downstream suppliers.

Building an ecosystem supporting global business development

WorldFirst will also invest RMB 100 million ($13.8 million) to develop an ecosystem of over 100,000 Chinese go-to-market enterprises to support cross-border giants. By connecting its core partners, including major upstream and downstream banks and suppliers, the WorldFirst ecosystem offers companies the opportunity to seek mutual support as they explore international expansion and achieve growth together.

According to WorldFirst data, the number of Chinese sellers on the company’s platform that began expanding abroad increased by 56% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2024.

In April at the Canton Fair, WorldFirst launched WorldTrade, a platform that seamlessly integrates business and fund flows. According to WorldFirst, WorldTrade can increase order payment efficiency tenfold and reduce costs by more than 30%. Less than two weeks after WorldTrade launched, it attracted foreign trade buyers from 33 countries who wanted to do business with Chinese merchants.

Work is also underway on a credit card and an application offering access to all financial services. “Faced with rapid changes in the global market, we have learned to quickly adapt to various changes using digital technology,” Hu said. “As more players enter the game, the cross-border trade industry will see fierce competition in terms of product strength, brand influence and innovation.”

This article was written in partnership with WorldFirst.