Payment by phone soon as Nets card goes digital

New app to be rolled out next month in move that will expand e-payment space

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A customer using the Nets mobile app to pay for purchases by scanning a QR code.

The way people shop and pay in Singapore could change decisively from next month, when the first set of Nets users will be able to store their contactless ATM bankcards virtually on their phones to settle their bills.

The payment solutions provider will launch its own e-payment app in October to let users pay through their digital Nets cards with just a tap of their mobile phone, or by scanning a QR code at merchants that accept the service.

With its formidable infrastructure - which its six partner banks ride on by issuing millions of cards - Nets could shake up the e-payments market, analysts said.

The search for a unified, national e-payment scheme has gathered speed since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last month that Singapore has been slow to adopt cashless payments.

Yesterday, Nets chief executive Jeffrey Goh outlined the company's two-year Nets 2.0 initiative to expand into mobile phone- based payments. Nets' app, called NetsPay, will launch first with one bank on board, with other banks following suit weeks later, on both Android and iOS smartphones.

All six of its partner banks - DBS Bank, OCBC Bank, United Overseas Bank, HSBC, Maybank and Standard Chartered Bank - will come on board eventually.

That marks a ready user base of millions of Nets ATM cards in circulation today. The company is upgrading all of its 100,000 Nets acceptance points with digital payment capabilities. About 30,000 are ready, with a planned target of 60,000 by the end of this year.

Nets has already solved the costliest part of cashless adoption - consumer reach and merchant acceptance, said Dr Jan Ondrus, associate professor of information systems at Essec Business School.

It already has the largest number of e-payment merchants - 37,000 - on the system.

Nets is targeting the remaining 30,000 merchants who have yet to adopt e-payment systems, including small shops and hawker stalls, a spokesman said.

"Nets already has a merchant and consumer base. They do not have to roll out a new payment infrastructure on the merchant side, besides the QR code, to acquire payments at the point-of- sale," said Dr Ondrus.

Nets had transaction of $24 billion last year, up from $21 billion in 2014 and $23 billion in 2015.

Nets' QR code and contactless payment systems will also work with e-payment apps from the three local banks.

This is an important step towards interoperability, which would tie different e-payment options together, said Forrester analyst Ng Zhi Ying.


See how QR codes are scanned for online payments.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline Payment by phone soon as Nets card goes digital. Subscribe