Singapore's digital journey started in 1984 with the Giro, a low-cost collection system for organisations that exists to this day. Cashless transactions began with the introduction by Nets two years later of Eftpos, short for electronic funds transfer at point of sale. Then came electronic road pricing and drivers got used to seeing value extracted electronically from their CashCards. The ez-link card for public transport was launched in 2001. A game changer for direct person-to-person transfers was the introduction in 2014 of Fast, or Fast and Secure Transfers system, available in real time every day of the week and at any time of the day. All these payment systems have now become ubiquitous.
These are reasons why cash withdrawals at ATMs have been dropping by $300 million a year, while e-payments using Fast and card transactions have been rising by $10 billion a year. From 60 per cent in 2015, ATM cash withdrawals as a percentage of e-payment transaction value dropped to 40 per cent at the end of last year. The share of cheques dropped nine percentage points in the period. The Government now wants Singapore to be a cheque-free society by 2025. That may well be a too-easy target. The swing to cashless options over the years shows that Singaporeans were better prepared for change than generally thought, and that it was system providers who were, perhaps, slow to move. Take the case of parking coupons when electronic road pricing was long in use - although it must be said that electronic parking has been progressively implemented, as has the recent introduction of the Parking.sg app. China's rapid advance in e-payments has rattled entrenched payments companies like MasterCard, Visa and PayPal. Countries like the United Arab Emirates are steaming ahead on adopting technologies such as driverless vehicles and electric cars. Banks in India, including DBS Group, are acquiring customers and selling them a variety of services by going the digital route. But as bank branches dotting Singapore testify, companies here have been diffident about pushing the envelope as they cater to a segment that still loves bricks-and-mortar facilities.