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S'pore not going cashless 'for its own sake' but for economic competitiveness: Vivian Balakrishnan

SINGAPORE is not going cashless "for its own sake", but to enhance the competitiveness of its economy, said Vivian Balakrishnan, minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, at the Committee of Supply debate on Thursday.

Dr Balakrishnan was responding to Desmond Choo, a member of the People's Action Party and mayor of the North East District of Singapore, who had asked if Singapore's Strategic National Projects - among them e-payments - can be used to support future economic transformation especially in supporting the gig and freelance economy.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "We are not going cashless for its own sake. Certainly not for tax collection.

"The ultimate objectives are to lower transaction costs for both businesses and citizens; expand opportunities especially for small businesses, freelancers and entrepreneurs creating startups as suggested by Mr Desmond Choo. Ultimately, this should enhance the competitiveness of our economy."

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The minister said that for instance, PayNow - a tool created by Singapore's banks to allow for bank-agnostic, easy and immediate fund transfers - has since its launch last year seen more than S$370 million in transactions, most of which are peer-to-peer payments.

Public agencies will start to use PayNow, he announced.

From March, the Ministry of Education will pilot the use of PayNow to disburse Edusave Awards to Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic students. The CPF Board will disburse lump-sum withdrawals of CPF savings to eligible members above the age of 55 using PayNow. This allows members to receive their payouts within the same day, instead of the current turnaround time of five working days.

PayNow Corporate (which allows consumers and businesses to pay businesses for their purchases) and the SGQR (a national QR rode standard) will too be launched this year, said Dr Balakrishnan.

"I am also glad that Nets and EZ-Link are working together to enable EZ-Link card acceptance at Nets terminals in hawker centres. Frankly, this is long overdue.

"We welcome and encourage greater interoperability of e-payments systems, which will bring greater convenience to consumers."