Thanks to the innovation focused on the fintech sector, cashless payments have grown tremendously, faster than ever before. The use of contactless credit cards, digital wallets, wearable technology and biometric authentication is fast becoming commonplace, embedded in our daily lives.
Singapore’s vision for a Smart Nation-esque cashless ecosystem is close to being achieved.
With more startups and international research and development centres expanding their presence here, the city is indeed well-placed to drive innovation with its digital savvy population, easy access to quality talent, pro-business policies and strong government support. Government agencies such as the Economic Development Board have been a crucial enabler in championing technological innovation and business growth.
Payment experiences are already being redefined to provide greater convenience, seamlessness and added security, helping to shape smarter and more inclusive societies. Significant investments in the payments space have brought forth innovative solutions by financial institutions and startups – from contactless ATMs to withdraw cash with the use of a smartphone, to QR Codes as payment methods and humanoid robots with commerce applications.
While good payment infrastructure is crucial in driving acceptance, interoperability is also important to drive adoption of digital technologies. The private and public sectors should collaborate to develop interoperable systems on a large scale, to better connect and incentivise users. For example, in March this year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Transit Link launched the Account Based Ticketing (ABT) system for transit. Through this pilot, commuters have the option to tap their Mastercard credit or debit cards to travel on public buses and trains, without the need to top up their fare cards. This system will streamline the transit ticketing process, save time and ease traffic flow at MRT stations and buses, as commuters will no longer be stalled at the gantry due to insufficient funds on their travel card.
Eventually, the goal is to create an interoperable open loop system which will allow local commuters and even tourists visiting to use their credit and debit cards for seamless travel around Singapore, similar to the implementation of contactless payments with Transport for London. Such an initiative can accelerate change in consumers’ behaviour to use the same contactless payments option across merchants in retail, F&B, grocery shopping, and entertainment. Familiarity leads to further trust in a contactless payments system that delivers the convenience and seamlessness that residents of a smart city value.
Another example would be digital wallets. According to our latest Mobile Shopping Survey, digital wallets have seen a significant uptake with a five-fold increase from four years ago. Some digital wallets are interoperable payment solutions which allow users to make online and in-app payments, irrespective of the card platform. The convenience of such unified payment interface delivers secure and frictionless commerce experiences for users, which can help drive acceptance.
On the merchant front, the government recently launched the SME Go Digital programme, to encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to start their journey towards digitalisation and encourage businesses to implement cashless technology. Such programmes are a good start to help SMEs build stronger digital capabilities and better integrate within the larger ecosystem.
The advancement in cashless payments we have experienced in Singapore today may not be a mirror of the status in the region but what is important is that nations and citizens are recognising that building a cashless society is the way forward.
Asia-Pacific offers a prime lens to understanding the different impact going cashless has on the diverse state of economies and countries. For developed economies such as Singapore and Australia, a cashless society provides for a seamless payment experience. In emerging markets such as China, India and Indonesia, the adoption of digital payments opens a window for the underserved community to achieve financial progress.
The end goal is to create a safe and connected world beyond cash, across nations, across people with globally interoperable payment systems, slowly but surely. It is only a matter of time till we get there.
This was first published on The Business Times on 27 June 2017.