2017 Yearender: Tech trends

2017 Year In Review: Going cashless no small change

Unified e-payment system may take more than standardised QR code or enlisting businesses in PayNow

After years of creeping at a snail's pace, the e-payment scene has roared to life, setting 2018 up to be the year that cashless payments could finally become ubiquitous.

Once Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made a call for a unified e-payment system at the National Day Rally in August, there were many developments, culminating in two significant moves in November.

The first was an announcement from Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, who is a board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, to expand the use of PayNow, an instant fund-transfer service, to businesses mid-next year.

Launched on July 10, PayNow lets individuals transfer money by entering the recipient's mobile phone or identity card number in any bank's app. As at last month, more than 600,000 Singaporeans have linked either their mobile numbers or identity card numbers to their bank accounts via PayNow.

By mid-next year when companies are allowed to link their business registration numbers to their bank accounts, PayNow's use will be more pervasive, going beyond transfers between friends.

With PayNow, merchants need not worry about complex system installation and related fees. As PayNow rides on Fast (Fast and Secure Transfers) - the country's instant interbank funds transfer system - merchants also need not worry about cash-flow issues. Comparatively, credit card and ATM card direct debit transactions take up to two days to settle.

While PayNow may be useful for owners of pop-up stores, its use at hawker centres may be limited. It is unthinkable that anyone would want to enter a business registration number and the amount owed into a bank app just to pay for a plate of chicken rice.

Enter a national quick response code payment standard, dubbed SGQR. The release of its specification last month marks the second major breakthrough this year. Its aim is to allow merchants to display just one QR code for scanning by any e-wallet for fuss-free transfers.

Singtel's Dash is the first to embrace SGQR, with its QR code sticker displayed at a handful of merchants here.

E-payment stalwart Nets also said it will change its QR code - rolled out to about 30,000 acceptance points in malls and taxis, and 600 hawker stalls - to one that incorporates the SGQR specification.

  • Since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made a call for a unified e-payment system during his National Day Rally in August, there have been many developments - including two significant moves in November:

    1 Expanding the use of PayNow, an instant fund-transfer service, to businesses mid-next year . Launched on July 10, PayNow lets individuals transfer money by entering the recipient's mobile phone or identity card number in any bank's app. 

    2 Release of a national quick response code payment standard - dubbed SGQR - specification, whose aim is to allow merchants to display just one QR code for scanning by any e-wallet for fuss-free fund transfers. 

Nets' QR code system now works with the e-wallets of DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank. Next year, customers of Citibank, HSBC, Maybank and Standard Chartered Bank will also be able to scan the Nets QR code to make payments.

Together, these seven major banks cover about 90 per cent of all retail transactions in Singapore.

The nation's effort to unify its e-payment systems may take more than a standardised QR code or enlisting businesses in the peer-to-peer PayNow scheme.

Payment providers may also need to standardise the way they itemise and describe bills, and how fast they settle payments, to help merchants and hawkers with account reconciliation at the end of the business day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2017, with the headline 'Going cashless no small change'. Print Edition | Subscribe