The Straits Times says

Put users first for wider acceptance

Going cashless is not about bragging rights. It should be a user-centred goal, namely one that makes the process of buying and selling a lot more convenient. Competing interests, however, have fragmented the means of payment and created unwanted inefficiency and confusion. It's time now to get back to basics.

Paper money reigned as a medium of exchange because it was more useful than barter, standardised coinage and such. "Plastic" gained a foothold later as credit and debit cards offered greater convenience, global utility, some fraud and purchase protection, and a few perks. But this technology comes at a price - annual fees, commissions paid by vendors which are passed back to consumers, late payment charges and interest of up to 25.92% per annum which is subject to compounding. Low-value transactions are not supported and some people are overwhelmed by revolving credit when spending spins out of control.

With the value of global non-cash transactions running into trillions of dollars, it is little wonder that many are out to grab a slice of the pie. In China, WeChat Pay and Alipay are dominant platforms. India's wide range of mobile wallets includes Paytm and Oxigen. On the global scene, there are Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay, not to mention in-app purchase options offered by Facebook and Snapchat. Here, even "old money" players have stirred into action. Banks have offerings like DBS PayLah, UOB Mighty and OCBC Pay Anyone. Nets, which had been slow to innovate in the past, is now into mobile wallets and QR codes, in the face of challenges from newbies like Grab and Razer.

While having more choices is good for consumers and merchants, what is plainly bad is the lack of an interoperable electronic payment network. What has been missing for years is a unified system which can process all cashless transactions via cards, mobile phones and online platforms. Designing this is not rocket science but it requires all players to work together under the Payments Council, announced last month, which is to oversee and coordinate improvements.

The new payments ecosystem in Singapore ought to be one that offers solutions that are "swift, simple, secure, accessible to all and accepted by all", as KPMG noted in a report commissioned by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. As the needs of users are of paramount importance, their concerns should be addressed. For example, Singaporeans have a very low level of trust in how online merchants protect their information, according to ACI's 2017 Global Consumer Fraud Report. On a broader plane, how might the huge amount of data gathered on individual spending habits be mined by organisations for various purposes? To build confidence in a new system, all e-payment issues must be taken to bits.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Put users first for wider acceptance'. Print Edition | Subscribe