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It's 'ka-ching' time for payments firms

Growth is being driven by the digitalisation of payments, shopping and robust demand

Singapore, being one of the highest online spenders in Asia, is fuelling payments firms' upbeat sentiments on growth. MAS said on Thursday that Q3 saw a y-o-y growth of 4.3%, driven primarily by payment processing services.


THE payment services industry in Singapore is upbeat on growth, while three major government reports in the past three months have singled out the sector for its rosy prospects.

Most recently, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said on Thursday that the third quarter's 4.3 per cent year-on-year growth in the finance and insurance sector "was primarily driven by robust demand for payment processing services", an update that tracked a forecast made in August.

Meanwhile, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in an October report that credit card network providers should contribute positively to growth into 2020, bolstered by the higher prevalence of electronic wallets and payment portals.

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Turnover from payments in Singapore will grow from US$6 billion this year to US$7.5 billion by 2025, or 3.6 per cent a year, according to figures provided to The Business Times by consulting firm Accenture, which released a report on the regional banking industry in early November.

That's even though the takings will be spread across a wider variety of industry players, with the value of transactions expected to fall both here and elsewhere.

Worldwide, debit card revenue per transaction dropped by 14.6 per cent from 2015 to 2018 for consumer payments, while credit card revenue per transaction was down by 11.6 per cent, Accenture also found.

Still, Singapore-based Nathan Salisbury, who oversees Asia-Pacific e-payment operations for French payment network technology provider Ingenico Group, told BT that the growth has been driven by both the digitalisation of payments and shopping, as well as robust consumer demand, particularly as Singapore is "one of the highest online spenders in Asia".

With Ingenico Group posting Asia-Pacific revenue of 359 million euros (S$541.8 million) for the nine months to Sept 30, Mr Salisbury added that "the payments industry seems to be growing at a moderate and healthy rate, especially in Asia".

Separately, Ng Aik-Phong, managing director of consumer startup Fave Singapore, said that the company's mobile payment app "has seen growth threefold" in merchant revenue here since the start of the year, as affiliated retailers topped S$150 million in receipts.

He observed that users can link their credit cards to the app, or pay with ride-hailing firm Grab's e-wallet - which may, in turn, be topped up with credit cards - in line with MAS findings on how e-wallet growth has driven credit card use.

Mohit Mehrotra, strategy consulting leader at Deloitte Southeast Asia, also noted that card growth has come in tandem with the global rise of services, such as in the gig economy.

"The proliferation of mobile phones, transformation of payment technologies, addition of new payments services, growth of online e-commerce and convergence across payments activities have driven traction for e-payment," he told BT.

Even as the MAS report projected continued growth in the absolute size of credit card network services, on the back of more kinds of online goods and services, the central bank also warned that "the degree of consumer penetration could plateau" as the nascent digital market stabilises.

But this will be a longer-term shift, the MAS said, and others have agreed.

Divyesh Vithlani, Accenture's Asean managing director of financial services, said that e-wallet transactions could cannibalise card payments, but "for this to happen, not only do we need to have a few mature wallet options, we also need wallet interoperability".

Based on what has happened in China, it could take as long as 10 years from e-wallet roll-out, before such a payment format could gain mass-market traction.

Deloitte's Mr Mehrotra added that credit card firms' offerings and risk models "need to be revised to ensure continued adoption or growth of these card network services", as service consumption habits evolve.

Similarly, Mr Vithlani suggested that financial services companies and payments providers have to "create that niche experience around payments and linked value-added services like loans and product offers" or risk being shut out of future growth.

Still - even as retail sales softened on a cooler economy - Edward Robinson, deputy managing director of economic policy and chief economist at the MAS, said on Thursday that "the support from payments is more a structural phenomenon", as the uplift comes not only from consumer demand but from business-to-business electronic transactions too.