Singapore makes cashless payments push

Singapore makes cashless payments push

Singapore is set to introduce a payments system similar to the UK's Paym, which will let people send money using only recipients' mobile numbers, as part of a concerted effort to wean the city state off of cash.

In 2014 Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to build a 27/7, real-time interbank fund transfer system, called Fast.

However, cash in circulation is 8.8% of GDP, compared to 4.4% in Australia and 2.12% in Sweden. Nearly 13 cheques per person were written in the country in 2014, compared to seven in Australia and effectively none in Sweden.

According to research from the Monetary Authority of Singapore and KPMG, the social costs of this heavy reliance on cash and cheques is around 0.5% of GDP, or S$2 billion a year.

In a speech, MAS managing director Ravi Menon says that the fact that Singapore is so far behind these other countries shows that the Fast infrastructure is "grossly under-utilised".

One of the key reasons for this is that people do not know the bank account numbers of people that they want to send money to. Therefore, MAS and the country's banks are developing a Central Addressing Scheme (CAS) that will allow payments to be made through Fast using only a recipient’s mobile number, or NRIC number, or Unique Entity Number.

"If all goes well, by this time next year, we will no longer need to remember bank account numbers for a majority of our electronic fund transfers," says Menon.

In his speech, the MAS MD also says that cost is holding back the take up of Fast among small businesses. Some banks charge up to S$10 to transfer funds through the system while cheque payments are free.

Menon also bemoaned Singapore's complicated point-of-sale situation, which sees many stores cluttering up counters with multiple terminals to accept different cards.

To tackle this, the country is pushing ahead with a unified POS terminal that can read all kinds of cards at retail and hospitality outlets. About 1000 of them have been deployed at convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, with more to follow.

Meanwhile, Singapore's Land Transport Authority is teaming up with MasterCard for a pilot that will see participants pay for their train and bus journeys by tapping their contactless credit and debit cards.

On MAS's own role, Menon says that the central bank will streamline and strengthen the payments regulatory framework to create a single and modular regime that will be applied on an activity basis, rather than specific payment systems.

KPMG's report also recommends strengthening the governance model and creating a national payments council that fosters innovation, competition and collaboration, coordinating key initiatives, such as promoting interoperability and adopting common standards.

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