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Singapore Set to Cut Cash, Checks on Path to Digital Economy

Singapore’s skyline seen in June 2018. (File photo: AP/Wong Maye-E)

By Chanyaporn Chanjaroen

Singapore set targets to reduce cash and check usage as it prepares to allow companies to use its digital payments service in a move towards a digital economy.

Checks will no longer be in use by 2025 while cash withdrawals from automatic telling machines will come down significantly, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who sits on the Monetary Authority of Singapore board, said in a speech Wednesday at the annual Association of Banks dinner in the city-state. The government-backed payments platform, called PayNow, will be available for companies starting Aug. 13.

Singapore has embraced technology to reduce cash usage and promote a digital economy. Today, there are more than 1.4 million PayNow registrations, and nearly $900 million have been transferred via PayNow since its launch last year, Ong said. Both local and international firms including DBS Group Holding Ltd. and Grab Inc. are also vying to offer digital payment options to residents and tourists in Singapore.

“The aim is not to force a cashless society, but to enable everyone to enjoy the convenience and efficiency of e-payments — simple, swift, safe and seamless,” Ong said. “When the level of convenience and confidence crosses a critical tipping point, adoption will rise across our population within a short time and become pervasive.”

Both check usage and ATM withdrawals have been declining, Ong said. The share of checks as a proportion of all payments using some other forms of electronic payments known as FAST and GIRO was about 28 percent in 2017, down from 37 percent in 2015. That may come down to 15 percent in 2020, according to Ong.

“Sweden has done it. We can too,” Ong said, referring to becoming a check-free society.

Corporate clients of seven banks will be able to transfer funds via PayNow in Singapore. They are DBS, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp., United Overseas Bank Ltd., Standard Chartered Plc, HSBC Holdings Plc, Malayan Banking Bhd, and Citigroup Inc, according to the association.

Ong also said while Singapore is encouraging competition among digital payment service-providers to give consumers choices, it will also ensure the various systems can inter-operate under a plan called SG QR, which is being implemented later this year.

In China, Ant Financial and Tencent Holdings have vast online payments businesses as they control 92 percent of the market.

“Our goal is to allow for a variety of payment solutions that are competing yet inter-operable and convenient, providing choice to consumers and encouraging innovation,” Ong said. “That is the key principle in our approach to e-payment.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chanyaporn Chanjaroen in Singapore at cchanjaroen@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Marcus Wright at mwright115@bloomberg.net. Jeanette Rodrigues, Ron Harui

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P