Cashless payments shouldn't be only option

I completely agree with the National University of Singapore (NUS) students who are against the university's plan to go 100 per cent cashless on campus (Students pan NUS' cashless campus initiative; April 19).

In major cities in China, where there is a high adoption rate of cashless transactions, many establishments that allow cashless transactions also accept cash.

Banks and ATM machines are still common on the streets.

The objective of the cashless system is to add a convenient payment option for both the shopper and the merchant, rather than to be the only option for payment.

The Straits Times reported last year that merchants typically pay about 3 per cent in credit card fees and, even at a large retail chain like Courts, the cost of accepting cashless payments is about three times higher than accepting cash (Can Singapore catch up in race to go cashless?; Aug 24, 2017).

It seems that for the various cashless initiatives being rolled out in Singapore, the objective is "to go cashless" rather than to give shoppers a more convenient option to make payments and ensure that merchants do not have to fork out more for such transactions.

The objective of the cashless system is to add a convenient payment option for both the shopper and the merchant, rather than to be the only option.

I wonder why organisations tend to choose the heavy-handed, "all or nothing" approach rather than to simply add another option.

Another example of this was when the DBS bank branch in Bishan introduced a new queue system three years ago, where all customers were required to use SMS or an app to receive a queue number.

Most of the bank customers in that branch at the time were in their 60s, and many had trouble adapting to the new system.

These examples have led me to believe that such systems are adopted generally because the decision makers are out of touch with what is happening on the ground, they have to demonstrate innovation and productivity as part of their key performance indicators, or someone other than the customer and merchant stands to benefit from rolling it out.

Just because a system is easy to use and beneficial does not mean that people should be forced to use it.

Singapore has an ageing population.

I hope the NUS students will draw lessons from this episode and help make Singapore a global leader in implementing technology that is inclusive, instead of raising technological barriers that isolate the elderly.

Sng Woei Shyong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2018, with the headline 'Cashless payments shouldn't be only option'. Print Edition | Subscribe