Just next to Ho Chi Minh City's financial district, two dozen street vendors' stalls display colorful adverts for e-wallets backed by private equity firm Warburg Pincus, ride-hailing firm Grab and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, among others.
Between them, the stalls - selling everything from crab soup to Vietnamese Banh My sandwiches - accept payment from most of Vietnam's 28 different e-wallets, which also allow users to make cash transfers through their mobile phones.
The wallets, which hope to take advantage of Vietnam's plan to become a cashless economy by 2027, compete fiercely to gain many users to help them to turn a profit, a battle for market share replicated across Southeast Asia.
Not all of them will survive. Already, the region's crowded mobile payments sector is starting to shrink, with each national market expected to support only two mass e-wallets, according to consultancy Oliver Wyman.
"The e-wallets spend a lot of money on attracting customers and retaining them, getting them to use the wallet in their daily life," said Duncan Woods, head of Oliver Wyman's Asia Pacific retail and business banking practice.
"When you've got so many of them out there, it's about who's got the deepest pockets," he said.
Southeast Asia has at least 150 e-wallet license holders, and firms including Grab, Go-Jek, Tencent Holdings, Ant Financial, Singapore Telecom, AirAsia and dozens of fintech firms are fighting for dominance.
Many have the cash. Grab plans to invest $500 million in its Vietnam business, with payments a focus area. Softbank's Vision Fund and GIC invested $300 million in e-wallet VNPAY's parent company in July, and e-wallet Momo raised $100 million from Warburg Pincus in January, according to news publication DealStreetAsia.
Some are using the cash to build scale, others to buy it, as they race to secure a dominant position in a mobile payments market estimated by Nomura to grow seven-fold to $109 billion by 2025.
Softbank-backed Grab is in talks to merge its Indonesian digital payments firm, OVO, and Ant Financial-backed Dana, both of which are among Indonesia's top five e-wallets, to bulk up and power ahead of rival Gojek, sources said.
In Vietnam, e-wallet Vimo merged with payment processer mPOS and rebranded as NextPay in June - and kicked off a $30 million fundraising round and an ambitious growth plan.
"We expect to be present across Vietnam and win 50% of the market with 300,000 acceptance points by 2023 from 60,000 merchants now," NextPay's CEO Nguyen Huu Tuat said, while noting that getting customers to change their habits was a challenge.
Street sellers in Ho Chi Minh City echoed this view, despite government efforts to change behavior.
Some wallets, including the partnership between local firm Moca and Grab, offer buyers discounts of up to 30% if they use their wallet, stallholders said.
"I want to comply with the government's cashless plan although I'm not very fond of it, so I offer 'morning cash, afternoon card'" one merchant, Huong, said when Reuters visited her noodle stall.
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