What is a super app? A Swiss Army knife with investment potential

What is a super app? A Swiss Army knife with investment potential


An application on your cell phone that combines dozens of features: chatting, navigation, wallet, booking system… These so-called super apps give users access to a whole range of services, anytime, anywhere. These specific app aggregators also enable investment and financing. The app ecosystem is mutating.

In 2018, the Chinese province of Guangdong was already letting people file for divorce using the versatile WeChat instant messaging app. This service was added to the super app along with others such as chat, Yuan remittance and company social profiles. Super apps have become app aggregators in a market saturated with specific apps, therefore acting as a kind of Swiss Army knife that centralizes services including virtual wallets and investments. How will super apps transform the Web 2.0 social networking ecosystem into the Web 3.0 financial ecosystem?

There are an estimated 2.5 million specific apps in the Android ecosystem, which is the most widely used worldwide. The average user has thus approximately 40 apps installed on their device. This figure has risen from 26 a decade ago and millennials are now reported to have an average of 67 apps installed on their devices (although they tend to only use about 25).

More of a platform than an app

A super app should be understood more as a platform than as an app, a sort of base on which to build more layers. They should not be categorized by a specific feature, but rather as a system offering multiple features. Many are a one-stop shop for chatting, web browsers, wallets or smart booking systems, to name just a few of the services available.

Super apps are, above all, a convenient solution, a centralized place from which to access whatever you want, whenever and wherever you wish. What’s more, these spaces also allow for the same data to be used for everything, depending on the need in question. The fact that the user does not have to log in again and again to multiple services makes them even more useful.

Virtual wallets and mobile payments

Initially launched in 2010 as a messaging project to compete with WhatsApp, WeChat, the first super app, added a mobile payment service in 2013. And after that, nothing was the same. The number of active users grew from 100 million to 400 million, and the Chinese Government even started encouraging the use of this Tencent platform. Today it monopolizes business, communications and payments in China, with over 1.2 billion active users.

The virtual wallet and the possibility of transferring money between users proved to be a major success for Tencent when it came to building its super app, which is now available worldwide. WeChat took advantage of the fact that a large part of the younger population was already registered as a chat user, thus offering them the chance to start paying with their phones. This trend is also reaching Europe thanks to banking applications such as the BBVA app, which brings together dozens of services all in one place.

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Super apps for investing in the future

Super apps are the future, but they will also play a part in building that future by channeling investments and facilitating a financial framework. Apps like that of BBVA, which were created to mirror the transactions available on the website, are now the primary tool for managing finances in many households.

This super banking app not only allows for all classic banking transactions to be performed on a cell phone, including payments and investments, it also makes it possible to access financial health services, calculate carbon footprints, pay bills, use a savings system, appraise cars or homes to buy or sell, sign documents remotely, contract funds, bundle insurance policies, etc.

If we take a look at other parts of the world, we can get a glimpse of what is just around the corner. In Asia for instance, Grab was initially created as a mobility app to help people get from A to B, but later made the leap to payments. In Europe there is Revolut, which integrates banking services. Meanwhile in Costa Rica, OMNi brings together services of all kinds, from health care to finance and transportation. The trend, it would seem, is similar: they are all created to grow and take on all types of financial services.

In the case of BBVA, the app was already created as part of the digital ecosystem, and in fact has helped to consolidate it in Europe thanks to regulations such as PSD2 and the opening of data, making it possible for BBVA to build an ecosystem around it.

Super apps have marked a turning point in the way we understand app ecosystems. While Web 2.0 looked to social media to integrate services, Web 3.0 shifts the focus to user identity when it comes to contracting those services. Unlike the GAFAM model (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft), this opens the door for these users to own their data and puts the power in the hands of super apps that allow people to do precisely that.

Share of consumers worldwide who would integrate super apps into their life experiences (in %)

Source: Statista