Look at this tiny, tiny phone! My current SIM card is too large for my HTC One Mini, so I’m borrowing a phone from my aunt. Who knew phones like this still existed!
Both telecommunication and banking in China are quite cheap, but it’s not at all efficient. Infrastructure is still very localized, with penalties to customers using a service outside the province of registration.
For example, there is an added fee for minutes/data outside of the province where your plan was signed. As I am spending my time evenly split between Nanjing and Shanghai, Sichuan, and Beijing, it wouldn’t be cost-effective to set up a local SIM in every city.
Accessing bank services outside your home province also results in extra fees, albeit at negligibly low rates. Even the kinds of cards used in the provinces are different. My Shanghai IC card is frequently rejected in Nanjing, where businesses are more familiar with the LC card. (More than a few cashiers have narrowed their eyes at me when I show my card, certain I’m gaffing them. Apparently they don’t get many visitors from outside Nanjing…)
You can get around this by having an online banking account, but there are administrative barriers that make creating this type of account more annoying. (Many administrative services require a mobile phone number and local residence permit). All the businessmen I know (who frequently travel) have accounts in major cities of stay, as well as an online account to manage them all.
These difficulties have made Alipay extremely popular. It allows immediate, fee-less transfers of currency between any account in any bank. I haven’t started using this service yet, but I do plan to start.