Singapore, Thailand weighing e-payment alliance

Singapore and Thailand are in discussions about connecting their national digital payment systems to forge an unprecedented regional alliance, as officials step up efforts to curb the use of cash.

The link would bring together South-east Asia's first national digital payment platforms, Singapore's PayNow and Thailand's PromptPay, said Bank of Thailand's director of payment systems policy Naphongthawat Phothikit.

"The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Bank of Thailand are exploring the possibility" of a link between the two networks, Mr Naphongthawat said in an interview late last month in Bangkok. Discussions are at a preliminary stage, and it's too early to talk about details or a timeline, he added.

A spokesman for MAS said yesterday that the discussions with the Thai central bank on possible collaboration to connect e-payment systems are still at a preliminary stage, adding that the two sides signed an agreement in July to cooperate on financial technology.

"Initiatives to enable faster and more efficient cross-border financial services within Asean is a positive development for the industry," the spokesman said. "MAS encourages more of such cross-border engagements, premised on common standards, to create a seamless and inter-operable digital experience for the Asean community."

Governments from India to Indonesia are prodding citizens to pay via cards, mobile devices and Internet-based channels, all of which are viewed as more efficient and traceable than physical notes. For now, cash remains the dominant payment mode in much of the region.

The Bank of Thailand oversaw the January roll-out of the PromptPay service by the nation's banks. It now has 24 million registrations via national identity cards. PayNow, introduced by Singapore's banking association in July, has over 500,000 registrations, according to MAS. 

Both networks allow peer-to-peer transfers via banks and enable payments to be made using recipients' mobile phone or national identity card numbers.

South-east Asia's banks are girding themselves for a competitive onslaught amid aggressive expansion plans by China's giant financial technology firms, such as Ant Financial, an affiliate of billionaire Jack Ma's Alibaba Group Holding.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore, Thailand weighing e-payment alliance'. Print Edition | Subscribe