Customers of major banks here can soon use Nets' QR code system to pay at hawker centres

Consumers of seven major banks here will soon be able to make cashless payments at hundreds of hawker stalls, in what is seen as a step towards creating a unified payment system in Singapore. PHOTO: NETS

SINGAPORE - Pay for a plate of chicken rice by scanning a QR code using your phone? Consumers here will soon be able to do so at hundreds of hawker stalls without having to fuss over which banking app to use or which code to scan.

A single QR code from e-payment stalwart Nets will soon be compatible with the e-wallets of seven major banks covering 90 percent of retail transactions here - a move observers say represents the first coming together of all major stakeholders in Singapore's cashless push.

Even CitiBank - previously completely outside the Nets ecosystem - will be coming onboard.

Still, the biggest change announced on Monday (Nov 20) was DBS Bank's decision to ditch its own PayLah! QR code system installed at some 1,700 hawkers and neighbourhood shops in favour of a common platform. Nets will also replace the PayLah! QR code with the Nets version.

Nets said its QR code system now works with DBS Bank's e-wallet, in addition to e-wallets from OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank (UOB).

The announcement from Nets marks another further step towards the unified payment system Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong called for during the National Day Rally in August, but also reflects the difficulty in unifying Singapore's fragmented system.

Nets' QR code system has been rolled out to more than 600 stalls in 20 hawker centres since its introduction in September (2017) but back then, the system was only supported by two banks. In the meantime, AliPay expanded its footprint and GrabPay extended its e-payment system to cover selected food and beverage outlets.

"A national inter-operable system like this will accelerate the adoption of digital payments in Singapore and go a long way in supporting the country's Smart Nation payments agenda," said Ms Tan Su Shan, DBS' group head of consumer banking and wealth management.

DBS' Ms Tan, who also chairs Nets' board, said the Nets QR code system is able to integrate overseas payment services and international QR code payment schemes.

Compatibility with Citibank, HSBC, Maybank and Standard Charted Bank is expected to be implemented some time next year (2018).

The Straits Times understands that Citibank will be adding a QR code scanner to its existing banking app for cashless payments. It is still unclear whether HSBC, Maybank, Standard Charted Bank will roll out their own e-wallets or use the NetsPay e-wallet launched last month (Oct) for making direct debits from banking accounts.

"We feel this is the right time to make the joint push to displace cash in Singapore," said Nets chief executive officer Jeffrey Goh.

Remote video URL

He added that plan is to get all 120 hawker centres on board the Nets QR code payment system by the end of next year - from 20 hawker centres in Beo Crescent, Tanjong Pagar, Yishun Park and Zion Road, as well as foodcourts and canteens at some polytechnics currently.

Nets merchant fees for hawkers have been waived for three years till 2020; it will cost Nets - owned by DBS, OCBC and UOB - $15 million in infrastructure and maintenance cost during the three years.

Madam Teo Seow Hua, 62, owner of a Nonya kueh stall at Beo Crescent Food Centre, said going cashless has removed the hassle of counting coins. "In the past, I had to make sure I had enough change for customers every day."

Madam Alison Koh, 54, co-owner of Uncle Lim's beverage stall at the same food centre, had the same views. "We have shortened queueing time as there is no need to count coins."

By mid-2018, all of Nets' existing 100,000 acceptance points at malls and in taxis will also be QR code-enabled, up from the current one-third, including those at Cold Storage and FairPrice supermarkets.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.