CASH IN A FLASH - Singapore

Many options, low take-up

Cashless payment options are not as popular here compared with those in regional neighbours such as China, Korea and Hong Kong, despite having an equally advanced payment infrastructure.
Cashless payment options are not as popular here compared with those in regional neighbours such as China, Korea and Hong Kong, despite having an equally advanced payment infrastructure. PHOTO: ST FILE

Cashless payments are growing in Asia with consumers lured by an increasing array of services, from smartphone payment apps such as e-wallets to stored value cards and cheap online interbank transfers.Many like the convenience and safety of not having to carry cash. But the growth is not universal, and, in some countries, cash remains king because of fears of identity theft as well as the lack of infrastructure and lack of knowledge of the digital world.

Cashless payment options are not as popular here compared with those in regional neighbours such as China, Korea and Hong Kong, despite having an equally advanced payment infrastructure.

"This is a less-than-satisfactory position in which there is a greater desire to see it move faster, with efforts being put in by banks, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Government," said Mr Chia Tek Yew, head of financial services advisory at KPMG in Singapore.

A slew of measures were introduced in Parliament recently to streamline and simplify the various options for e-payments.

The Smart Nation Programme Office is setting up a Central Addressing Scheme by the middle of this year, which will allow users to transfer funds to another party using a mobile phone without having to enter his bank account number. Part of a $90 million fund to modernise hawker centres has also been set aside to install cashless payment systems to open up e-payments there.

Separately, Nets is upgrading its terminals to accept payment from all banks and payment networks, and through cards or mobile wallets.

Ironically, analysts cite the confusing number of e-payment options here, along with the ease of getting cash, as reasons why going cashless has stalled.

The options here are plentiful: Apple Pay, Android Pay, Dash, DBS Paylah, ez-link, Nets, Liquid Pay and Samsung Pay, besides store-specific cards, credit and debit cards. But the variety means having to carry cards for different purposes, or downloading different apps.

"For example, using mobile payments now means having to juggle an additional device to complete a transaction that involves payment method, loyalty or rewards, receipts and, in some instances, identification," said Ms Quah Mei Lee, market research firm Frost & Sullivan's Asia-Pacific industry principal of digital transformation.

Another gripe - cashless transactions require minimum spending of $10 to $20. A survey by auditing firm KPMG last year showed that cash made up 60 per cent of all consumer payments here in 2015, with the next largest share being credit card payments at 14 per cent.

"Easy access to ATMs and cheques makes it easy for consumers to take out cash," said Mr Chia. Merchants also prefer cash, not wanting to invest in technology or pay commissions for e-transactions.

Ms Quah said the Government can offer tax benefits to firms which adopt technology.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 19, 2017, with the headline 'Many options, low take-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe