Uber rival Grab hits the gas on its digital payments platform in Southeast Asia

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Grab, the main rival to Uber in Southeast Asia, has stepped up its efforts to build a payments platform after it began allowing users to store credit inside its app.

On the face of it, that might not sound like a huge advance but, bear with me, it’s notable.

The Singapore-based company announced back in July that it would develop a mobile payments platform — GrabPay — to help differentiate itself from rivals and encourage engagement from its users. We’ve seen this before in India, where Ola — a Grab ally — actually span its Ola Money service out into a standalone app. The idea is that offering a place to store cash for everyday payments helps keep the app sticky and in emerging markets there’s vast potential since many millions are unbanked and there’s no go-to digital option.

A key part of that drive is to allow money to be stored inside GrabPay, and as of today Grab is enabling that for its users in Indonesia and Singapore. It plans to roll the feature out to its four remaining markets — Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines — “in the coming weeks.”

Credit and debit cards can be used to load money into the GrabPay wallet, but it also supports online banks, local ATMs, local wallets and over-the-counter at selected convenience stores. The long-term goal Grab is banking on is that it can assemble a lengthy list of partners that makes GrabPay worthwhile for storing people’s cash for more than just transportation needs. I.e. reaching that point that a user can pay their water bill, use it to pay for a few groceries from 7-11 store, etc, using GrabPay.

“We believe mastering cashless payments is critical to our mission of ‘driving Southeast Asia forward’ to improve people’s well-being and accelerate the move to an increasingly cashless society,” Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling said in a statement.

Until the start of this year, Grab didn’t even accept payments by credit card, it was strictly cash-only rides, so it has put its foot down on digital payments in 2016. It isn’t alone in pursuing this policy, however. Aside from Ola in India, GoJek, the billion-dollar motorbike on-demand service in Indonesia, is also going after payments in the same geography.

Grab, which claims 24 million downloads and a pool of more than 500,000 drivers, will aim for pole position as the race transitions from cars on-demand to digital payments.