Taiwan consumers still wary of mobile payments

TAIPEI - Whether it is getting lunch at a restaurant or bubble tea at the night markets, taxi-driver Chien Hong-tze always prefers paying with cash.

Even if he runs out of bills, Mr Chien, 32, will just head to the nearest ATM.

"ATMs are everywhere...I can choose to use from any banks without incurring extra charges. If not, I will just go to any convenience store which also has an ATM. It's so easy."

Indeed, with the highest density of convenience stores in the world, a local bank ATM is merely a five-minute walk from most of Taiwan's households.

Cash remains king in Taiwan and the ease of using dollars and cents gives people less incentive to go cashless.

Even those who want to go cash-less like marketing executive Amigo Huang, 26, say many places are not embracing mobile payment solutions.

"The cafes or restaurants are still very wary that they may not get the money and insist that we pay in cash."

But the likes of CTBC Bank and social messaging app LINE are hoping to change things. They want to get people to pay by tapping away on their mobiles using mobile wallets rather than fishing out dollar bills.

Till today, Taiwan has been slow to adopt mobile payment technologies.

According to Taiwan's top financial regulator, the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC), mobile payments only accounted for 26 percent of the total electronic payments in the country. In contrast, they are 77 per cent in South Korea, 65 percent in Hong Kong and 56 percent in China.

But Taiwan is playing catch-up. The FSC hopes mobile payments will rise to 52 per cent within the next five years.

Earlier this month(Mar9), the FSC gave seven banks to go-ahead to offer digital wallet and mobile payment services. They include Taipei Fubon Commercial Bank, Cathay United Bank, E. Sun Commercial Bank, Taishin International Bank, CTBC Bank, First Commercial Bank, and Union Bank of Taiwan.

Consumers here will be able to use their iPhones and Apple watches to make payments through Apple Pay, making Taiwan Apple's 14th market for its digital wallet service. Samsung Pay also wants a slice of the market.

CTBC, Taiwan's biggest credit card issuer, has been an early adopter of mobile payments, tying up various platforms like PChome Online, Yahoo and LINE Pay to allow consumers to use their mobile wallets.

"We hope to be a catalyst in pushing this innovation and provide consumers not only the best payment products, but also the best payment experience," a CTBC spokesman told The Straits Times.

LINE Pay, which was launched in Taiwan in 2015 and tied up with CTBC to launch a CTBC LINE Pay Card at the end of last year(2016), said it has nearly 1.5 million users in Taiwan and is working with 11,000 merchants. They include convenience stores like Family Mart and 7-Eleven convenience stores.

And it seems Mr Chien, too, is embracing the change. Besides allowing passengers to use cash and credit cards to pay for their fares, he recently added top internet firm Alibaba's Alipay as an option.

jermync@sph.com.sg