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Singapore lagging behind other cities in e-payment use: PM Lee

SINGAPORE — When it comes to electronic payments, the Republic trails behind other cities, including those in China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 20).

Even though Singapore has e-payment platforms as well, the various different schemes and systems have caused inconvenience for consumers and incurred costs for businesses. Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information

Even though Singapore has e-payment platforms as well, the various different schemes and systems have caused inconvenience for consumers and incurred costs for businesses. Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information

SINGAPORE — When it comes to electronic payments, the Republic trails behind other cities, including those in China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 20). 

He noted that Chinese visitors would ask why Singapore was “so backward” when they realised that they had to use cash for transactions here. 

In the larger cities in China, credit cards have become a rare sight and cash is now obsolete.

Instead, the favoured payment modes are WeChat Pay and Alipay — where apps are linked to bank accounts. Payment can be made simply by picking up a phone and scanning a QR code. 

In his National Day Rally speech, Mr Lee shared an anecdote about Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say buying chestnuts from a roadside hawker stall in Shanghai a few years ago. With a wave of their mobile phones, the customers ahead of Mr Lim took their chestnuts and left. No cash traded hands.

“Being Singaporean, he thought there must be some special offer. So when it was his turn, he confidently said, ‘I don’t need the special offer, I will pay the full price in cash!’” said M Lee. The hawker shot Mr Lim a quizzical look and pointed to a QR code at the stall. It was only then that the minister realised that payment was only through WeChat Pay, and he had to scan the QR code to complete the transaction.

“He was the suaku one,” said Mr Lee, using a colloquial term to describe an ignorant person. 

From buying snacks at roadside stalls to tipping waiters at restaurants, nearly all transactions in China can be paid through e-payment platforms these days, said Mr Lee.

Even though Singapore has e-payment platforms as well, the different schemes and systems have caused inconvenience for consumers and incurred costs for businesses. 

Calling for systems to be simplified and integrated, Mr Lee said: “People have to carry multiple cards, and businesses must install multiple readers ... the result is, most of us still prefer cash and cheques — six in 10 transactions.” 

In a study commissioned by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), auditing firm KPMG found that 60 per cent of consumer payments were made in cash in 2015.

(Click to enlarge)

Cash remains a prominent payment mode in certain environments, making up over 80 per cent of transactions in wet markets and hawker centres, as well as in small shops and neighbourhood stores.

Credit and debit cards are favoured for overseas and local online shops, dine-in restaurants and shopping malls, the study found. 

The MAS has been working on rolling the various payment systems into one, with a unified terminal for different cards, said Mr Lee on Sunday.

A new service here, PayNow, links mobile numbers to bank accounts, similar to WeChat Pay and Alipay.

Mr Lee noted that payments can be made through PayNow without revealing one’s bank or account number. 

The new service will soon incorporate the use of QR codes, allowing for “convenient, cheap and safe” transactions without a credit card service fee.

“Next time I’m at a hawker centre, I look forward to paying for my meal with PayNow,” Mr Lee said. 

 

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