AirAsia CEO says its mobile payment app will give Alipay, GrabPay 'a run for their money'

AirAsia's new mobile payment app, BigPay, can give established players in the region a run for their money, according to the budget airline's CEO Tony Fernandes.

BigPay, which is run as an independent business under its parent company AirAsia, launched its app earlier this year. The app is positioned as an "everyday digital alternative to bank accounts," and is available in Malaysia, according to its website.

"We got a fantastic fintech business where we're going to give Alipay, GrabPay a run for their money, called BigPay," Fernandes told CNBC's Akiko Fujita at the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo.

Users sign up for a BigPay account through their smartphones and are issued a Mastercard that can be used to pay at various establishments and to withdraw cash from ATMs globally. The company says it has lower processing fees than average bank-issued cards.

David A. Grogan | CNBC
Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia at 2015 WEF in Davos, Switzerland.

With BigPay, users can also get travel perks with AirAsia and send money for free, the company said on its website.

Topping up the mobile wallet requires either a credit or a debit card. Alternatively, it can be done through bank transfers, according to the company.

BigPay is a part of AirAsia's strategy to develop new businesses that can generate additional income for the airline as it weathers through market headwinds.

Other projects include the development of an e-logistics platform called RedCargo, according to Fernandes.

"We are now in this big digital adventure, which we think will add a lot to our bottomline," he said. "That will cover some of these pressures."

Those pressures include higher oil prices, volatility in the currency market and a shifting sentiment among travelers on the back of projected economic slowdown in major economies such as China. But Fernandes explained that during times of economic slowdown, people gravitate towards low-cost carriers and take shorter breaks.

"I've seen in times of pressure, actually people want to travel more to get out of some of the realities of life, and low-cost carriers do that," he said.

When asked about the recent crash of a Lion Air flight that has renewed concerns around the safety of low-cost carriers, Fernandes said it's "a little unfair" to blame budget airlines.

"We don't know what happened, we don't know whether it was a manufacturing fault or Lion Air fault or whole lot of other issues," he said, adding that safety is a marathon. "No airline can say they're safe. It's a continual process of being better and better and better, and mitigating those risks."

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