Wanted: Ideas to get heartland to go cashless

A customer using the DBS PayLah! app to pay for muffins at Uggli Muffins in Toa Payoh. The e-payment solution for the heartland should be interoperable with other payment schemes, the four government agencies say.
A customer using the DBS PayLah! app to pay for muffins at Uggli Muffins in Toa Payoh. The e-payment solution for the heartland should be interoperable with other payment schemes, the four government agencies say.PHOTO: DBS

4 govt agencies crowdsourcing solutions for e-payment system for hawkers, coffee shops

What e-payment technology will work at the hundreds of hawker centres, coffee shops and heartland shops in Singapore?

Four government agencies have put out a combined request for information (RFI) to crowdsource ideas to find the answer, in what is Singapore's first coordinated effort on e-payment at these places, where cash is king.

The four agencies are the National Environment Agency, Housing Board, Monetary Authority of Singapore, and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office.

In a joint statement yesterday, they said: "Given the low-value transactions in these places, the solution must be affordable for the merchants, for payments between them and their customers and between them and their suppliers."

The move is in line with Singapore's Smart Nation push and comes after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday that Singapore is lagging behind many cities in going cashless.

According to documents seen by The Straits Times, the four agencies said the desired solution should include PayNow, an instant fund- transfer system launched last month, and should interoperate with international schemes such as Visa and Mastercard.

Transaction fees imposed on merchants should also be negligible or standardised so that merchants are not inclined to accept one payment scheme over another.

ONE-TAP SYSTEM EASIER FOR SENIORS

Regardless of what bank you're with or what card you hold, it should be a one-touch, one-tap system so senior citizens can handle it.

MR HONG POH HIN, chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association, which represents more than 400 coffee shops.

"Ideally, payment solutions should be interoperable to minimise possible fragmentation of the e-payment space," they said.

The problem today is that many e-payment schemes - although commonplace at foodcourts, supermarkets and department stores - are not interoperable. They include stored value cards, credit cards and mobile wallets.

"A settlement within the same day would be viewed favourably," the agencies said in the document, addressing hawkers' and merchants' concerns over cash flow.

The four agencies would not disclose the timeline for a system rollout.

Insights from the RFI will help the agencies prepare a request for proposal to co-create solutions with the private sector, or kick- start procurement processes for the e-payment solution to be deployed at hawker centres, coffee shops and heartland shops.

Those interested can access the RFI on government procurement website GeBiz. The closing date for submission is Sept 15.

Mr Hong Poh Hin, chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association, welcomed the move.

"Coffee shops need to implement cashless solutions sooner or later," he said.

But he hopes that the concerns of coffee-shop owners and senior citizens can be addressed. For instance, payment settlement should be instant for shop owners to have better cash flow.

"Regardless of what bank you're with or what card you hold, it should also be a one-touch, one-tap system so senior citizens can handle it," said Mr Hong, whose association represents more than 400 coffee shops.

Hawker Victor Thya, who owns a nasi padang stall at Suntec City and a Western food stall at the National University Hospital, said "cash is king in Singapore because people feel safe handling it".


•Additional reporting by Shayna Toh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2017, with the headline 'Wanted: Ideas to get heartland to go cashless'. Print Edition | Subscribe