SFF x Switch 2020

More growth opportunities for digital payments, tech adoption in 2021, say finance leaders

A person uses the SGQR unified e-payment at a hawker centre on Aug 12, 2020.
A person uses the SGQR unified e-payment at a hawker centre on Aug 12, 2020.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The past year has been a "game-changer" for digital technology use in financial services and will pave the way for more growth opportunities next year and beyond, leaders in the financial sector said on Monday (Dec 7).

DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta said: "Overall, the economy moved from cash to digital quite materially. I think... the shift to digital in 2020 will be sticky and it will be the platform and the base on which all kinds of other digital payments will continue to explode."

More merchants will move to accept some form of digital payments on top of cash payments, he said.

Mr Gupta was among the panellists discussing how the financial services sector will respond in 2021. The talk was held on the opening day of the Singapore Fintech Festival x Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology. The five-day event ends on Friday.

The discussion, which also included Standard Chartered Bank group CEO Bill Winters and AMTD Group chairman and CEO Calvin Choi, was moderated by Bloomberg Television's Ms Haslinda Amin.

Mr Gupta also said that the impact of artificial intelligence technologies on the financial services sector will be the biggest thing to note in the industry in the next five years.

He acknowledged that technologies like blockchain have been around for a period of time but added: "I do think we are getting to a tipping point where the exponential impact of a distributed ledger is going to start being visible in more and more use cases.

"What do you do when you get more AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality)? How do you make sure that the customer experience changes even more? I think you're going to see a lot more of this in years to come."

StanChart's Mr Winters noted that while technical changes are inevitable, "there will still be a very substantial role for the human being and human interaction where elements of trust and personal advice are necessary".

Individuals will still want that human touch and their intuition on top of advice from machines, he said, adding: "More and more that means that we've got to use AI (artificial intelligence) and associated tools to enrich the quality of advice."

During the discussion, the panellists also weighed in on other topics such as digital currencies and the recently awarded digital bank licences in Singapore.

A consortium led by AMTD, which included Xiaomi Finance and SP Group, failed in their bid for a wholesale banking licence in Singapore.

But that does not change the group's plans in the region, Mr Choi said.

"The result of the licences... will not derail us from our commitment and undertaking (to have) Singapore as our hub," he said, noting that the group's overall talent cultivation, training and upskilling programme is focused here.

Mr Gupta noted that a lot of real economy issues have been somewhat masked in 2020 due to government moratorium programmes and a bigger credit challenge across most countries in the world is expected in the coming year.

He said: "You've got to be able to prepare for that. On the opportunities side, I do think we are beginning to see some (signs) of a rebound. I always believe that in crisis comes opportunity.

"So if you're nimble and can respond to the opportunities in the rebound more quickly, it gives you the capacity to build out some positions and build out some of your businesses so I think that opportunity will be here next year."