The ST Guide To... cashless payment systems in Singapore

Cashless payment systems are part of Singapore's smart nation push, which aims to raise productivity and make people's lives more convenient with technology.
Cashless payment systems are part of Singapore's smart nation push, which aims to raise productivity and make people's lives more convenient with technology.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Array of systems currently in use, from Nets to ez-link and PayNow

Efforts to wean commuters from using cash payments when using public transport gained pace recently.

Since Sept 1, cash top-ups have not been available at passenger service centres in 11 MRT stations. They are Admiralty, Bedok, Bukit Panjang, Buona Vista, Farrer Park, HarbourFront, Hougang, Lakeside, Pasir Ris, Serangoon and Yew Tee MRT stations.

This is part of Singapore's smart nation push, which aims to drive productivity and make people's lives more convenient by taking full advantage of technology.

During his National Day Rally speech on Aug 20, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there was a need to "simplify and integrate" the many different payment systems now in use, which confuse people and impede Singapore's progress to go digital with payments.

Here is a guide to the various payment schemes available today, and where they are used.

NETS' ELECTRONIC FUNDS TRANSFER AT POINT OF SALE (EFTPOS)

This 30-year-old cashless payment scheme is the oldest in the country.

Operated by DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank (UOB), Nets lets consumers use their ATM cards for direct deductions from their bank accounts.

 
 
 

It is the most extensive network - accepted at 99,000 points islandwide. While it is a free service at most places, consumers must pay a 30 cent charge for using Nets to pay for ComfortDelGro cab rides.

Nets is rolling out a unified point-of-sale terminal that also processes credit card and contactless mobile wallet payments to reduce the clutter of terminals at check-out counters.

About one-third of Nets' 99,000 acceptance points islandwide, including those at Cold Storage and FairPrice supermarkets, have been upgraded.

NETS CASHCARD, FLASHPAY CARD

Launched in 1995, the CashCard is one of the most widely used stored value cards. It is mainly used for Electronic Road Pricing and carpark payments, and directly deducted from the in-vehicle unit in cars.

The CashCard has limited uses for retail purchases. Also, it has no automatic top-up feature. Drivers must use a spare card if their main card runs out of value, or hurry to an ATM or Nets machine to top it up.

Meanwhile, the contactless smart card Nets FlashPay, introduced in 2009, has an automatic top-up feature. But this card is not widely accepted at carparks.

It can be tapped at readers in buses and train gantries to pay for bus and train rides, but for this function, the rival ez-link card is more commonly used.

EZ-LINK CARD

Launched in 2001, this is the preferred stored-value smartcard for public transport use. It is issued by EZ-Link, a subsidiary of the Land Transport Authority.

However, it does not work at many carpark gantries, which are dominated by the Nets CashCard.

A scheme automatically reloads the value of the ez-link cards, but each reload comes with a 25 cent "convenience fee" charge. The convenience fee, however, is waived for people who link a DBS/POSB or Citibank credit card to the auto top-up scheme.

E-WALLET SERVICES

Launched last year, e-wallet apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay use the wireless Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to transmit data between the mobile device and a contactless payment reader - similar to how the ez-link card works.

Users of newer NFC-supported handsets can sign up for these services by saving an encrypted version of their credit or debit cards to their phones.

Eligible cards include those issued by major banks - POSB, DBS Bank, OCBC Bank, UOB, Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank. Together, they account for about 12 million cards, or 80 per cent of the Visa and Mastercard credit and debit cards issued in Singapore.

Users can tap and pay for goods and services at more than 50,000 Visa payWave and Mastercard PayPass contactless payment terminals, including those at fast-food chain McDonald's, and Cold Storage and FairPrice supermarkets.

A 3 per cent transaction fee is imposed on merchants for accepting Visa and Mastercard payments. The same fee applies when they accept mobile wallets such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay - which tap the existing credit card infrastructure.

Their use at most retail points is free for consumers. However, taxi rides paid with a credit card attract a 10 per cent surcharge. Similarly, online ticket booking at Golden Village's website comes with a "convenience fee" of $1.50.

PAYNOW

PayNow is a new instant fund-transfer system, launched on July 10, that does not require users to enter bank account numbers - a bugbear for those using e-payments. It lets users transfer money by entering the recipient's mobile phone or identity card number in any bank's app such as DBS PayLah, UOB Mighty and OCBC Pay Anyone. The service is free for now.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore plans to launch a common QR code, which PayNow can ride on, by the end of the year.

Its end goal is for merchants to display just one QR code, which can be scanned by any bank app for fuss-free, instant fund transfers.

With a QR code, customers also need not ask merchants for their mobile or identity card number for a PayNow transfer.

SINGTEL DASH

First launched three years ago, Dash works like the ez-link stored-value card. Deductions can also be made automatically from the Dash mobile wallet when users tap their Android phones on local merchants' contactless payment terminals.

Users of Singtel's Dash mobile wallet app have since July been able to tap to pay for goods and services at twice as many shops as before, thanks to its partnership with Visa.

In July, Singtel released a new version of the Dash app with the Dash Visa function, including a virtual 16-digit card number, to enable this.

It allows Dash to be accepted at all 50,000 Visa payWave contactless payment terminals here, including those at fast-food chain McDonald's and Cold Storage and FairPrice supermarkets.

ALIPAY

The Alipay app works by scanning a merchant QR code to make payments. The China-based cashless payment service provider has increased its acceptance points in Singapore after it tied up with ComfortDelGro to allow the use of the payment scheme in its 17,000 taxis in July.

Prime Taxis have also been accepting Alipay payments since March. About 2,000 additional acceptance points are in Chinatown, Sentosa and Orchard Road.

Currently, Alipay users must either have a China banking account for debiting transactions or a China bank-issued credit card.

The payment platform serves only the 2.8 million tourists from China yearly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2017, with the headline 'Cashless payment systems in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe