Contactless payment: More in Singapore riding the wave

Thankfully, travelling cashless by taxi with the Nets FlashPay was painless and efficient. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Thankfully, travelling cashless by taxi with the Nets FlashPay was painless and efficient. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Buying tickets at Shaw Theatres Lido with the smartphone dragged into a 25-minute affair involving three staff members. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Buying tickets at Shaw Theatres Lido with the smartphone dragged into a 25-minute affair involving three staff members. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Five attempts to pay with the virtual MasterCard PayPass on the smartphone at Cold Storage in Jelita failed. Instead, the Citibank Visa PayWave worked. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Five attempts to pay with the virtual MasterCard PayPass on the smartphone at Cold Storage in Jelita failed. Instead, the Citibank Visa PayWave worked. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Getting toast at Koufu foodcourt using Nets FlashPay. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Getting toast at Koufu foodcourt using Nets FlashPay. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Paying with the Citibank Visa PayWave at Sakae Sushi in Wheelock Place. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Paying with the Citibank Visa PayWave at Sakae Sushi in Wheelock Place. -- PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Thankfully, travelling cashless by taxi with the Nets FlashPay was painless and efficient.  Getting toast at Koufu foodcourt using Nets FlashPay.  Five attempts to pay with the virtual MasterCard PayPass on the smartphone at Cold Storage in Jelita fa
Thankfully, travelling cashless by taxi with the Nets FlashPay was painless and efficient. Getting toast at Koufu foodcourt using Nets FlashPay. Five attempts to pay with the virtual MasterCard PayPass on the smartphone at Cold Storage in Jelita failed. Instead, the Citibank Visa PayWave worked. The virtual MasterCard PayPass on a smartphone. Buying coffee at Starbucks with it was a breeze. Paying with the Citibank Visa PayWave at Sakae Sushi in Wheelock Place. Buying tickets at Shaw Theatres Lido with the smartphone dragged into a 25-minute affair involving three staff members.PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM, DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

More such cards being issued, merchants offering service but many are still resistant

Paying with a wave of a card over a reader is becoming more common here, with more cards rolled out and more merchants on board.

Ez-link is the biggest issuer of these cards, with over 15 million given out since its launch in 2008. They are accepted at 30,000 points now, up from 20,000 two years ago.

Competitor Nets FlashPay has 3.2 million cards in circulation since its 2009 launch. The stored-value card is now accepted at 48,000 points, expected to go up to 80,000 by the end of next year.

There are also contactless credit and debit cards, such as Visa PayWave and MasterCard's PayPass.

Visa has issued 1.5 million PayWave cards so far; the number will hit two million by the year end. Some 600,000 transactions were made on PayWave last month, triple the number a year ago.

MasterCard declined to say how many cards it has issued.

Since the Government made a push for such contactless modes of payment a few years ago, its use has been extended from just buses and MRT trains to foodcourts, petrol stations and even a fishmonger at Tiong Bahru Market.

In 2009, a national standard - the Contactless e-Purse Application Standard (Cepas) - was launched. Spearheaded by the Government, it allowed contactless stored-value cards from any vendor to be used at any contactless card reader. It also recently helped to fund a project to pave the way for mobile phone tap payments. But challenges abound.

A random check by The Sunday Times at 38 various outlets across the island last Thursday found that 23 did not accept any form of contactless payment. These included well-known brands like Ya Kun Kaya Toast. Some staff at those that accepted such payment seemed unsure of how to use the technology, or would impose minimum spending limits on the use of stored-value cards like FlashPay, even though they are not supposed to.

The main obstacle, said ez-link's chief executive Nicholas Lee, is cash. "People are so used to handling and paying with cash, especially for small-value items," he said, adding that merchants are also familiar with cash handling. "There is no demand for them to push for cashless payments." He added: "There is a need to educate and drive awareness among these merchants."

Nets admitted that there are a "substantial number" of cash-based businesses in Singapore. "These are the ones we are targeting for conversion," said its spokesman, adding that it is working with the National Environment Agency to roll out FlashPay at hawker centres here.

But interviews with merchants found inertia on the ground.

Mr Myo Thet, 51, the owner of Kaung Sone minimart in Clementi, accepts only cash. "We are small. People want to buy something and go immediately. (Contactless) processes take time," he said. "I don't even know how to use contactless cards myself." Group manager of optical chain The Lens Men, Mr Ben Chan, said using the technology means extra costs and "most of (our) customers don't request to use contactless cards anyway".

Businesses have to pay to install the readers, as well as a fee for each transaction, which is about 1 to 3 per cent of the item's price.

But merchants like NTUC FairPrice, which started accepting PayWave and PayPass last month, said going contactless helps ramp up productivity. "It takes quite a lot of workload away from cashiers, is more accurate and queues are cleared faster," said chief executive Seah Kian Peng.

Sales executive Wong Jin Feng, 23, said he uses contactless payment only for taking the bus and MRT. "I don't remember to use it for other things, I am too used to using cash," he said. "Now very few merchants accept contactless payments, so I have to bring cash around anyway."

limjess@sph.com.sg