Singapore inched closer towards a unified cashless ecosystem yesterday as two local payment giants joined hands for the first time - a move that observers say signals the willingness of the country's e-payment players to collaborate.
From April, people will be able to tap their ez-link cards, including concession cards, on Nets terminals to pay for their noodles or chicken rice at hawker centres.
Nets and EZ-Link also said that they planned to extend their partnership beyond hawker centres.
The two firms pointed out that their first venture together was significant because it ensured that senior citizens and students - who might not have bank accounts but most likely carried ez-link cards - would not be left behind in the drive towards going cashless.
Welcoming the tie-up, Ms Jacqueline Loh, deputy managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), said: "A wide spectrum of consumers... can utilise the same card to make payments for their daily purchases and public transportation seamlessly."
But she added that MAS wanted to see similar partnerships among industry players to enhance the consumer's payment experience.
Singapore has redoubled its efforts to become a cashless society after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out in his National Day Rally speech last August that it lagged behind even China on this front. He said there were too many e-payment systems that "don't talk to one another".
The e-payment scene roared to life soon after, including last November's rollout of a national quick response code payment standard, dubbed SGQR. It will work with most, if not all, the e-wallets in use.
Number of stalls that will accept ez-link cards.
Number of hawker centres with stalls that accept ez-link cards.
Nets chief executive Jeffrey Goh said yesterday that the latest partnership would offer Singa-poreans a "single interface experience" at hawker centres.
For a start, ez-link cards will be accepted at about 1,000 stalls in more than 30 hawker centres. They include stalls that have installed Nets' payment terminals at hawker centres in Beo Crescent, Tanjong Pagar, Yishun Park and Zion Road.
These stalls now also display a QR code that works with the e-wallets of DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank, as well as the NetsPay e-wallet. This will eventually follow the SGQR specification.
From April, ez-link cards will also be accepted at canteens in Singapore Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Nanyang Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic and the Nanyang Technological University. The canteens have also installed Nets' payment terminals.
EZ-Link chief executive Nicholas Lee said: "We hope to continue to establish similar partnerships to increase our acceptance points across Singapore."
EZ-Link is a subsidiary of the Land Transport Authority.
Nets, on the other hand, dominates the retail space with a system that lets consumers use their ATM cards for direct deductions from their bank accounts. It is owned by DBS, OCBC and UOB.
Observers said the success of the partnership would hinge on whether the two parties manage to strike commercially viable agreements that suit both. They said the latest tie-up was only the first step.
"This is a small but symbolic step towards integration,"said Mr Lin Yih, director of smart-card systems developer Digital Applied Research and Technology.