Firms must work together to create unified e-payment system

The Ministry of Communications and Information's upcoming Digital Readiness Blueprint is a positive step towards a smart nation and enabling Singaporeans to become digital citizens (Blueprint to ensure no one is left behind in Smart Nation drive; May 10).

Under Singapore's Smart Nation plans, a key strategic project is the advocacy of e-payments in the ambition to become a cashless society, marked by simple, quick and safe digital payments between individuals and organisations.

Singapore still lags behind other cities in e-payments, with six in 10 transactions in Singapore involving cash or cheques - a fact highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech last year.

In the same speech, Mr Lee also called for the fragmented e-payment systems to be streamlined, given that there are too many different e-payment options available that do not work together.

Not surprisingly, e-payments may be victims of their own early success.

Confused with the variety of e-payment options, many consumers revert to the most familiar form of payment - cash.

In order to drive the push towards digital payments, e-payment firms need to steer their innovation towards addressing the end goal of achieving a cashless society in unison, rather than trying to outdo their competitors. A unified, ubiquitous e-payment network is thus needed, along with a framework for implementation and greater governance.

Beyond this, a renewed effort to shift the mindset about cashless payments is essential if we are to fully realise the goal of a cashless society.

While incentives such as discounts and cash rebates can help entice vendors and consumers to adopt cashless payments, greater education is needed to raise awareness among consumers on the benefits of e-payments and to boost adoption among citizens, young and old, through a unified e-payment system.

While cash is still largely king, its position will become increasingly precarious as the e-payment ecosystem continues to converge. For this to happen, the key question for e-payments should not be a matter of "who", but "how".

Victor Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2018, with the headline 'Firms must work together to create unified e-payment system'. Print Edition | Subscribe