Budget debate

Soon, all you need to transfer funds is payee's phone number

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative.

Central Addressing Scheme will allow fund transfers to be made without bank account numbers

By the middle of this year, transferring funds to a colleague or stallholder can be done on a mobile phone without having to enter his bank account number.

All you need is his mobile phone number, regardless of the bank or banking app he is using.

Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan disclosed this yesterday when he said the Smart Nation Programme Office - set up to spearhead key Smart Nation projects in Singapore - is working with the industry to launch a Central Addressing Scheme this year.

"This works like a register which maps mobile numbers to bank account numbers or to the unique entity numbers of businesses," he said during the debate on the budget of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

He was addressing a concern of Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC).

Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged the frustrations of consumers, saying: "We have all got too many cards and sometimes incompatibility; it is really irritating."

SECURE DIGITAL TRANSACTIONS

Digital identity... is absolutely essential if we are going to have secure transactions in the digital world.

DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative .

The PMO oversees the Programme Office, which was set up to spearhead key Smart Nation projects in Singapore.

Another ongoing project is on developing secure digital identification, Dr Balakrishnan said in his reply to Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) who had asked what projects are in the pipeline.

The minister said SingPass is "not good enough" as a secure digital identification system.

SingPass, set up for Singapore residents in 2003 to access e-government services, tends to be vulnerable when users adopt usernames and passwords that are easy to guess, such as NRIC numbers or birth dates. "We need to quickly upgrade this," he said, noting that three key elements are missing.

These are: Biometrics such as fingerprints; encryption; and an open application programming interface (API) which lets the private sector build their apps on it.

A solution could be found in a Mobile Digital ID, which the Government started on in March last year when it called for a tender.

The Mobile Digital ID - likely to sit in a phone's SIM card - will uniquely identify every Internet user, just like the NRIC does, and can be used to authenticate online transactions with the Government or commercial entities such as banks or telcos. An individual's credentials are encrypted and stored in a tamper-proof zone of a mobile phone. Hackers would not be able to make sense of the encrypted data even if the phone is lost or infected with malware.

"Digital identity... is absolutely essential if we are going to have secure transactions in the digital world," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Responding to Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) on what private-public sector collaborations there are to drive creativity, Dr Balakrishnan cited the joint project of the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) and ride-hailing company Grab.

GrabShuttle, a new shuttle bus ride-matching app, was launched yesterday. It lets office-goers book a seat on the bus. GrabShuttle offers 15 routes, with fares ranging from $3.50 to $5 per trip, for example, from Tampines to Midview City in Sin Ming, or from Suntec City to Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Panjang. More routes will be added later.

Dr Balakrishnan said such collaborations can create a whole new level of service the Government cannot achieve alone, and solves the "last mile" commuting issues in Singapore - without raising the 12 per cent of land allocated to roads.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'Soon, all you need to transfer funds is payee's phone number'. Print Edition | Subscribe