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Nets invests S$30m to launch unified e-payments platform



A CASHLESS future has become more of a reality in Singapore, as Nets is investing over S$30 million in the next three years to launch a unified digital payments platform here.

The local payment services group said on Monday that it will expand a unified, interoperable QR code payment system to more than 100,000 acceptance points at 37,000 merchants nationwide - and extend it to customers of seven major banks here.

Nets added that its investment plans will be supported by DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank - the three banks that each owns a third of Nets. Of the S$30 million, half will be used to subsidise infrastructure and setup costs for merchants, and the other half for marketing.

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For hawkers in particular, Nets will be waiving all terminal and transaction fees for three years. Nets will also work to speed up the settlement process to allow merchants to receive their sales proceeds on the same day. Currently, Nets offers a settlement period of T+1 day (up to one day after the transaction date).

Jeffrey Goh, Nets' chief executive, said: "The ground is receptive - merchants are open to e-payment modes and consumers are clamouring for secure and convenient payment instruments. This is the right time to make the joint push to displace cash in Singapore."

The unified QR code platform became effective from Monday for DBS, OCBC and UOB customers. The four other participating banks - HSBC, Maybank, Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank - are expected to offer this service in the first quarter of 2018.

Forrester analyst Ng Zhi Ying said that this is a significant move because the collaboration among banks can create network effects that are key to the uptake of mobile payments.

She told The Business Times: "This is a sharp contrast from before when banks, telcos and other mobile payment players were competing against each other. Kickstarting these network effects will allow this new system to reach critical mass faster."

Already, over 600 stalls across 20 hawker centres - including Amoy Street Food Centre, Zion Road Food Centre and Tanjong Pagar Plaza Food Centre - accept QR code payment. By mid-2018, all of Nets' acceptance points will be QR code-enabled.

That is, merchants will in future need to display only a single QR code sticker at their premises. To make payment, customers simply launch their respective bank's e-payment app or NetsPay (Nets' e-payment app), scan the QR code and enter the payable amount. Previously, there could be more than one QR code sticker at a stall, which has led to user confusion.

Ching Wei Hong, chief operating officer at OCBC, said: "What we are doing today is offer a clear solution to consumers by removing all the confusion over the many types of e-payments in Singapore. Given the dominance of Nets ... and the huge market share by the three Singapore banks of the consumer market, we can effectively promote QR code cashless payment on a large scale."

Nets said that it is in talks with or exploring partnerships with other e-payment providers, including Grab, as well as players in China and Indonesia. Earlier this month, Grab launched its mobile wallet service GrabPay targeting merchants, including hawkers.

Jason Thompson, managing director of GrabPay, noted: "Our cashless payments space is too fragmented today. The GrabPay platform remains open and we always look at ways to closely collaborate with as many partners as possible, including Nets."

Forrester's Ms Ng added that while waiving setup costs would provide an incentive for merchants to get onboard, Nets can explore providing more value to these merchants beyond payments. "These include providing insights about customer purchases or attitudes towards different types of products. I think merchants will find this invaluable."

On Monday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said that the Payments Council has endorsed the specification for a common Singapore Quick Response Code (SG QR) that can accept electronic payments by both domestic and international payment schemes, e-wallets, and banks.

The SG QR will be adopted and deployed by payment services providers in Singapore through 2018. Nets QR will be part of SG QR.