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Singtel ups the ante in fragmented mobile payment market

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Singtel on Tuesday unveiled its Singtel Transit near-field communications (NFC) SIM and an improved version of its mobile payment app, Dash.

Singapore

SINGTEL on Tuesday unveiled its Singtel Transit near-field communications (NFC) SIM and an improved version of its mobile payment app, Dash.

In what appears to be an attempt to up its game against big-name mobile-payment players Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, Singtel's offering has been described by some observers as well-timed. It comes ahead of Samsung Pay's launch here next month, and a month after Apple Pay, which was launched here to American Express cardholders only.

Forrester researcher Ng Zhi Ying told The Business Times: "The mobile-payments industry is fragmented, with an array of players offering different types of systems, but this isn't necessarily bad for consumers."

With more mobile payment offerings, consumers stand to gain as players compete to provide a simpler, cheaper, more convenient and secure payment experience. It is a step forward when new offerings are telco-, device- and bank-agnostic, she said.

Singtel said on Tuesday that "everyone in Singapore" will be able to access the new Dash app, regardless of which telco or device they use.

Customers can top up their Dash balance through accounts with Citibank, DBS, OCBC, POSB, Standard Chartered Bank or UOB; they will also be able to send money locally and overseas to Indonesia, the Philippines, India and China when they register for a remittance account, which can be topped up with any existing bank account.

Customers can also pay with Dash at more than 20,000 locations islandwide. Retailers on board include NTUC FairPrice, 7-Eleven, BreadTalk and Topshop. Those with NFC-enabled phones simply tap and pay, but iPhone and other users will need to enter a counter code to pay.

With the Singtel NFC Transit SIM, those with NFC-enabled phones can tap to pay fares on buses and trains. An NFC Transit SIM from any telco will enable NFC-enabled phone users to check and top up their EZ-link balances with their debit or credit cards on the go.

Customers can also pay for rides in Prime taxis with Dash, a feature previously limited to Comfort and CityCab taxis. To do that, customers no longer need to enter the taxi number to complete payment. "Our proprietary cloud technology now automatically pushes the taxi number to the app," said Gan Siok Hoon, Singtel's vice-president of mCommerce.

Jon Allaway, Accenture's financial services business lead in Asean, said: "Singapore is a hotbed for innovation. As we see more such services become available, competition will undoubtedly filter out some players."

Isaac Ho, founding partner of Singapore-based venture-capital firm VentureCraft, said, however, that the mobile-payments market is becoming "too fragmented" with telcos, banks and technology companies creating their own payment systems, usually limited to their own customers and partner vendors.

Annet Aris, an adjunct professor of strategy at Insead, pointed out that mobile-payment systems have not taken off in the developed world, where customers are used to "smoothly functioning" debit and credit cards.

Forrester's Ms Ng said that at least for a while, all mobile-payment systems will continue to face three hurdles - providing a clear improvement over existing systems, developing a viable business model, and driving consumer and merchant adoption.

Accenture's Mr Allaway said that ultimately, ubiquity is key to success in payments: "Merchants want secure payment mechanisms that are available to all. They don't want to worry about knowing who you bank with, or having to support different mechanisms from different banks."

Everyday customers will be the winners, as the most intuitive and user-friendly system that is available on the most number of devices and accepted by the most number of merchants, will prevail, he added.

Matt Dill, who heads Singapore's Visa innovation centre, added that the biggest lessons for digital payments come from China, where mobile payment is ubiquitous.

Mr Ho of VentureCraft, in which Alibaba co-founder Sun Tongyu is an investor, said that Alipay is the headliner platform in China: "Alipay works with all banks and telcos, and acts as a platform to standardise payment. It is also widely adopted because of its many vendors on board."

Anna Gong, chief executive of Singapore-based mobile marketing and loyalty startup Perx, believes that customer engagement will help to differentiate mobile-payment players.

She said: "Dash has a little more of a focus on customer engagement as it works with various banks and across mobile platforms, so it is more than just a mobile wallet. One can commute on trains and taxis with Dash, top up one's app on-the-go, and send money to friends and loved ones both locally and overseas."

At the same time, Dash might be seen as "just another standalone app" that users need to install, register for and link to their other payment facilities. Ms Gong said: "The question is how can it help users in ways beyond making payments? Can it be integrated sufficiently with other apps that users use on a regular basis?"