The rise of smart cities

Singapore: E-payment and digital identity part of Smart Nation push

Imagine the convenience of transferring money to a friend or a vendor just by using the other party’s mobile phone number instead of his bank account number.

This may happen before the month is out.

A Central Addressing Scheme slated to be rolled out will dispense with the need for bank account numbers – a bugbear of e-payments now.

Instead, the scheme – backed by the Association of Banks in Singapore – will map mobile phone numbers to bank account numbers for funds to be credited, saving senders the hassle of asking for and entering a recipient’s account number.

The new function will be integrated into banks’ existing apps, such as DBS PayLah, UOB Mighty, OCBC Pay Anyone, Maybank Mobile Money and Standard Chartered’s SC Mobile.

It is believed that the service will bring down the merchants’ costs of going digital, allowing even hawkers and owners of small shops to go cashless.

E-payment is a key part of Singapore’s Smart Nation drive, which received “turbo-charging” following a reorganisation of the public sector teams involved in its design and implementation.

Singapore wants to make e-wallets as universally accepted as cash, just like online payment solution Alipay in China.

Part of a $90 million fund to modernise hawker centres has also been set aside to install cashless payment systems to open up e-payments at hawker centres.

Separately, Nets – a consortium of local banks – is upgrading its point-of-sale terminals to accept payment from all banks and payment networks, and through cards or mobile wallets.

As Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said in March, Singapore is “a victim of its own success” in the e-payment space as it has many options but none quite as universally accepted as cash. It is hoped that the Central Addressing Scheme will provide the streamlining needed.

Singapore is also working on developing a digital identity for every citizen. Last July, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) engaged digital security systems maker Gemalto to trial a mobile digital system in the banking and healthcare sectors to securely identify every Internet user – just like a digital version of the NRIC, or identity card, in the physical world.

It is believed that a digital ID can better protect online identities as threats of fraud and identity theft mount. Furthermore, it will allow users to ditch multiple e-banking tokens with different banks, and do away with the hassle of remembering different usernames and passwords.

Singapore’s digital ID could be in the form of a software-based security token.

Later this year, a video analytics system – part of a larger shared sensor and communications backbone code named Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP) – is also slated for roll-out. The video analytics system is meant to help detect anomalies to predict, say, potentially unruly crowds or traffic congestion, and is being developed by GovTech working with various unnamed agencies.

A key part of SNSP is being piloted with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and rides on LTA’s network of street lights. It will be used to carry all sorts of data – from temperature to humidity – and could see the 95,000 street lights islandwide become interconnected lamp posts.

The Smart Nation Programme Office, created in 2014 to bring these plans to fruition, now comes under the new Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, which will also have technology teams from other agencies.

“In this way, we will be more coordinated and will move forward on the key digital government (and Smart Nation) programmes in the coming year or two,” said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in March.

The reorganisation of the public sector teams came after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted in February that Singapore was not moving as fast as it ought to on digital transformation.