The Sunday Times says

Cashless experience must be seamless

Through PayNow, users of different banks can quickly transfer money to other users using their mobile phone number.
Through PayNow, users of different banks can quickly transfer money to other users using their mobile phone number. PHOTO: MCI

Though the idea of the rational consumer is sometimes more myth than fact, when it comes to payment methods, people do make sensible choices. Ease and convenience comes first; few would pick high-tech options just for the sake of novelty or because these are widely touted as being "smart". Hence, to gain wide currency, a new unified payment system must be simple, seamless and incur negligible costs - like cash.

Proponents of a "cashless society" - which ironically refers to people who are anything but cashless - might presume it's just a case of matching consumer habits with hi-tech payment schemes. But therein lies a chicken and egg situation. Customers wouldn't pick a method if it is not universally acceptable, and merchants won't adopt it unless sufficient customers use a system.

Those likely to be more burdened by e-payment schemes are hawkers, HDB heartland shopkeepers, coffee-shop operators and small traders, because of the fees involved and slow processing time. In an effort to promote e-payment for low-value transactions, government agencies are crowdsourcing ideas to overcome impediments on the ground. One might think it's a no-brainer to ensure all payment solutions are interoperable, fast and cheap to use. But, given the vested interests of big businesses, it has taken decades to establish a payments council to look at the issues.

Some steps in the right direction are PayNow (a peer-to-peer fund transfer service), the development of a common QR code and unified point-of-sale terminals. It is absurd to expect customers and merchants to struggle with different cards, apps and systems - all claiming to be better than the others. The e-payment drive should also ensure certain consumers are not left out. In pushing for full cashless payments for public transport rides, for example, it's important to cater to those still using cash. They too must be served by all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 03, 2017, with the headline 'Cashless experience must be seamless'. Print Edition | Subscribe