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Does Singapore need wallets?

“I’m sorry, we are just not that innovative here”, said bartender in Ritz-Carlton hotel in Singapore. “Please, I need your card, enter PIN, and now sign here too”. Yep, Singapore is no Iceland, or China, or even Moscow. For those spoilt by the ApplePay or GooglePay mobile payments, Singapore might not give you the smooth experience.

We can observe the same situation in other countries that were pretty well developed in the 00s, when banks invested in the bank card acquiring infrastructure and provided payment terminals to merchants. Back then contactless technology wasn’t yet embedded in most terminal models.

Singapore has been on the the frontier of worldwide progress for 200 years already. This is the first Asian country where telegraph appeared, as well as cars, cinemas, electrification, gender equality, public education and medicine. Singapore was doing international bank transfers via telegraph when Dutch and British still ruled half of Asia, Russians enjoyed their Tzar times and United States of America were fighting for their much praised independance.

Now in 2018, at least retail and hospitality sectors are not enough incentivised to upgrade their payment terminals to support contactless payments. Most places have several clunky terminals by different banks, each priced differently per card issuer and the payment scheme. Good news is you don’t need cash. You don’t, but yet simple observation shows that cash is very much in use, even among Singaporeans.

As for the white-collar Singaporeans below 35, they treat their money the same way as young adults everywhere else in the world do — as a commodity. Commodity that has certain value, and this value can be maximized and multiplied with the smart approach: miles, points, rewards, rebates, discounts and cashbacks — all smartly managed with the help of 5 to 8 bank cards, dozen loyalty programs and a couple of e-wallets.

Here is the curious part about those e-wallets. At first the sheer diversity of e-wallet logos on display throws you off. Can it be that Singapore in 2018 is all about e-wallets while bank cards are accepted virtually everywhere? No, not really. Most of those e-wallets are actually produced by the banks themselves and thus easily distributed through their PoS software, more on banks will rather market demand. Paylah! from DBS bank, Mighty from UOB bank, Pay Anyone from OCB, NETSPay from NETS card scheme. Dash from Singtel mobile operator, FavePay from Fave deals and promo service provider, GrabPay from (my favourite) Grab. Ok, no questions what Alipay and WeChat Pay are doing there, but what is up with all the rest?

Well, most of these e-wallets look like replicas of Alipay and WeChat Pay: QRs to scan and to show, discounts, rewards, money transfer, utilities, gift cards, services etc. Here is the thing. Since banks united through the Paynow system to enable money transfers by the phone number from inside the mobile banking app, e-wallets lost their main scenario that kept things going. But they remained relevant as the value boost tool. Some are dead and useless, for sure, but some are very much alive. Top up GrabPay balance, for instance, and the bank rewards you for reaching minimum monthly spend. That is money you will definitely need for your future rides and food delivery, anyways. Or travel to South-East Asia.

Anyways, maybe there is no reason to upgrade the country to contactless payments now. Perhaps, it is worth to wait for the face recognition-based payments to jump right into 2030s.

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Comments: (1)

Melvin Haskins
Melvin Haskins - Haston International Limited - 07 November, 2018, 08:291 like 1 like

What this tells me is that cash is by far the simplest method of payment

Anna Kuzmina

Anna Kuzmina

Deputy Chief Commercial Officer

Yandex.Money

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Asia Financial Services

Covering all aspects of financial services in Asia from banking in China to algo trading in Japan.


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