Common QR code for cashless payments in Singapore may be ready by year's end

This will facilitate e-payments islandwide, regardless of which banking app is being used

A shopper downloads the app to scan the QR code at the Robinsons store at Raffles City.

A newly formed payments council, set up to look into ways to advance e-payments in Singapore, has created a task force specifically to develop a common QR code for Singapore (SGQR) that could be used for e-payments islandwide.

A QR - quick response - code is a square barcode used increasingly for scanning all sorts of data onto smartphones, for instance.

According to a Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) statement yesterday, the council had its first meeting on Aug 11, where members advocated the use of QR code-based payments as a practical and convenient way to introduce e-payments to cash-based merchants.

QR codes are already being used for e-payments today. DBS, for example, has been encouraging small cash-based merchants like hawkers and market vendors to adopt QR codes as a payment method.

At the point of sale, the buyer scans the merchant's displayed QR code with his phone. This automatically displays the merchant's name in the DBS PayLah app and the buyer can then enter the payment amount. The payment is then deducted from the buyer's DBS PayLah wallet to the merchant's.

Since introducing QR code payments here in April and launching its partnership with ComfortDelGro taxis to encourage commuters to pay via QR codes, DBS is seeing over 15,000 QR code transactions a month via DBS PayLah.

What the task force is aiming for is a standardised QR code that can be read by any customer in Singapore, regardless of which banking app he is using.

OCBC Bank's head of e-business, business transformation and fintech and innovation, Mr Pranav Seth, said: "Diverging standards, leading to multiple QR codes at points of sale, lead to confusion for both consumers and merchants on what payment instruments to use, and how to use them. This slows down the pace of cashless adoption and the displacement of cash. As Singapore starts to adopt QR codes, this is an opportune time for us to standardise as an industry and avoid this confusion at an early stage."

Indeed, MAS said in its statement that the council members agreed a common QR code could facilitate payments among different payment schemes, e-wallets and banks.

The SGQR Task Force, as it is known, will be co-led by the MAS and the Infocomm Media Development Authority and involve a broad range of stakeholders such as banks, payment schemes, QR payment service providers and relevant government agencies.

The task force aims to have in place by the end of this year standardised SGQR specifications to accept both domestic and international payment schemes.

It will also consider the governance structure and implementation strategy for QR payments.

Said Mr Ravi Menon, MAS managing director and payment council chairman: "This is the kind of idea exchange and collaboration that we need within the ecosystem to realise our shared vision of an e-payments society. Our goal is to make the payments experience efficient for businesses and delightful for everyone, including the young and elderly."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline Common QR code for cashless payments in Singapore may be ready by year's end. Subscribe