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A POINT that has come up in national discourse repeatedly is the dichotomy between a tech-savvy Singapore with a love for the latest in technology, and the propensity of its residents to use cash for transactions.
Data showed that last year, six out of 10 consumer transactions in Singapore were made using cash or cheque. In his National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commented that when it came to electronic payments, the Republic trails behind other cities including those in China.
What is holding Singaporeans back from embracing a cashless digital economy? One key area of concern in Singapore is security of digital payments.
A key highlight of the Digital Evolution Index 2017, a global study of the digital advancement of 60 countries, is the importance of trust to build a more digitally enabled future, said Karthik Ramanathan, Mastercard's Asia Pacific vice-president for enterprise security solutions.
"Singapore was identified as one of a few 'digital elites' with a strong score, as well as demonstrating positive growth and momentum."
Overall, the Asia-Pacific is the highest performing region, and a co-relation between nations and public-private partnerships is deemed to be a key driver of change.
To build a holistic digital payments ecosystem, the way forward would be to develop cohesive partnerships and better coordination among government, financial institution and businesses. And in order to successfully drive Singapore towards becoming a cashless society, the key contributors would be issuer acceptance across all merchant types and consumers' readiness to adopt digital payments.
This would help in implementing a nation-wide cashless system that "can have impactful and positive change on businesses and consumers", said Mr Ramanathan.
"In addition to ensuring that innovation and technology are the key factors, having in place a safe and secure payment system will also be a priority to inculcate consumers' trust and encourage adoption of new payment methods."
He added that Mastercard Identity Check Mobile, a biometrics-based authentication service for mobile devices, is being rolled out now.
"It allows consumers to authenticate themselves via multiple biometric modalities such as fingerprint, face and iris on their mobile devices. There are more modalities being developed as an enhancement to this service," said Mr Ramanathan.
"Mobile devices are becoming increasingly powerful and feature-loaded. We leverage their hardware capabilities, but overlay it with our security solutions to get the best of both worlds."
Mastercard Identity Check Mobile, which includes a facial-recognition feature, is currently available in Singapore for issuers and merchants to include as part of their digital offerings. This service can be used for payment authentication for online transactions, app login, browser login, funds transfer and call centre verification.
Mr Ramanathan noted that biometrics is a key pillar of the company's security strategy to make digital payments secure and seamless, and "it is safer than passwords and PINs that often lead to fraud and transaction abandonment, as people may forget their PINs and passwords".
"We have taken our leadership in biometric technology and added that into a chip card," he said.
"Earlier this year, we introduced the next generation biometric card, combining chip technology with fingerprints to conveniently and safely verify the cardholder's identity for in-store purchases.
"The new card builds on fingerprint scanning technology used for mobile payments and can be used at EMV (the global standard for chip-based debit and credit card transactions) terminals worldwide.
"Security and convenience have historically been seen as opposing forces. We are now introducing technology that achieves both at the same time. This opens up plastic card innovation for our partners as no merchant integration is required and it is easy for issuers to adopt."
In addition, he added, with the acquisition of global anti-theft specialist NuData, the company can access leading behavioural biometrics technology to seamlessly authenticate and enable sites to confirm a human versus bot engagement.
A key cashless project that Mastercard is running is the joint pilot with the Land Transport Authority on the account-based ticketing system, where Mastercard cardholders can pay for their train and bus rides with their Mastercard cards without topping up value. This will be extended to mobile payments for Mastercard cardholders in early 2018, said Mr Ramanathan.
"We have also extended the availability of Masterpass, Mastercard's global digital payment solution, to the ComfortDelGro mobile booking app for 'street hail' to provide fast and secure in-app payments in the shift to drive more cashless adoption."
Mastercard is also a member of the SGQR Taskforce, co-led by Monetary Authority of Singapore and Info-communications Media Development Authority to establish interoperable electronic payments and develop a common QR code for Singapore.
"This is part of our commitment to help build a world beyond cash and help Singapore achieve its Smart Nation objectives."