SINGAPORE: Singapore has the “right ingredients” to be a Smart Nation, but it lags behind other cities in certain areas such as electronic payments, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 20). But efforts are underway to address this, including making e-payments possible at hawker centres.
Mr Lee pointed out that the country has a natural advantage in that it is compact and highly connected, Singaporeans are digitally literate and schools here are teaching students basic computing and robotics.
But in the e-payments space, China is leading the way, Mr Lee said.
He illustrated this with an anecdote of what Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say observed when he visited Shanghai a couple of years ago. When queuing to buy chestnuts at a roadside hawker, Mr Lim saw people ahead of him waving their smartphones before collecting their chestnuts and leaving without paying any cash.
He assumed that there was some special offer and told the vendor he did not need it and offered to pay the full price in cash. The hawker pointed to a QR code, and it was only then that Mr Lim realised that people were paying for their chestnuts using the QR code for WeChat Pay, the Prime Minister recounted.
Mr Lee noted that in major Chinese cities, cash has become “obsolete” and even debit and credit cards are becoming rare, as everyone is using WeChat Pay or AliPay. These can be used for nearly all payments such as buying snacks from roadside stalls, paying for taxi rides and tipping waiters at restaurants, he added.
“So when visitors from China find that they have to use cash here, they ask: ‘How can Singapore be so backward?’”
While Singapore, too, has e-payments there are too many different schemes and systems that “don’t talk to one another”, Mr Lee said. This has resulted in most people here preferring cash and cheques, which make up 6 in 10 transactions, he said.
E-PAYMENTS IN THE HEARTLANDS
Mr Lee said to help address this, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is working to integrate the different systems into one. For instance, there is now a single unified terminal that can read different cards.
More recently, a new service called PayNow was rolled out by the Association of Banks this June. It links bank accounts to a person’s mobile number or identity card number, so they can send funds to others via phone numbers instead of having to remember bank account numbers.
There are plans to make QR codes available for PayNow, as well as for this e-payment method to be available at hawker centres, Mr Lee revealed.
In a separate press release on Sunday, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) said efforts are underway to develop a common QR code for Singapore, to make it easier for consumers and small businesses to receive money via PayNow. This, it said, will be rolled out in six months’ time.
It added there is an initiative to build better and easier ways for businesses to connect to and use PayNow, such as through new bulk processing functionalities.
MAS and banks here are also working with industry partners on simplifying e-payments at merchants through the deployment of unified point-of-sales (UPOS) terminals, SNDGO said, adding that 25,000 such terminals will be rolled out over the next 18 months.
SNDGO added that the National Environment Agency (NEA) will be embarking on the adoption of e-payments at hawker centres, which will be “rolled out in phases”.