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EZ-Link still a leading player in Singapore's e-payment drive

Its low-key trials, rollout of new services include app for top-up of ez-link card and loose change top-up at Cheers

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"EZ-Link is in a good position (to resolve this high use of cash). Our customer base ranges from seven year olds to seniors, and we have offerings to meet the needs of users in their different stages in life." - EZ-Link CEO Nicholas Lee.

Singapore

EZ-Link, an old guard of e-payments in Singapore, has not been resting on its laurels - even if it has been noticeably "quiet" in the last two years, during which the country made its cashless aspirations known and new players have been muscling in on the e-payment space, said its chief executive officer.

In an interview with The Business Times on Wednesday, EZ-Link CEO Nicholas Lee revealed that the seller and distributor of ez-link cards has been subtly trialling and rolling out services aimed at promoting e-payment adoption and reducing cash handling in Singapore, and has even embarked on a cultural and digital transformation to stay relevant.

For instance, EZ-Link had in March silently moved the application for EZ-Reload from web-based forms to the EZ-Link app, cutting the approval process from five days to minutes. EZ-Reload is a service that automatically tops up a user's registered ez-link card when it has insufficient value. Asked why there was little publicity for that, Mr Lee said: "We wanted to try it first. Now, we are announcing it and we are all out."

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As of Wednesday, EZ-Reload also became an entirely free service. Previously, EZ-Reload users would incur a S$0.25 convenience fee with every top-up made with his Mastercard or Visa credit or debit card. Mr Lee said: "We have taken away the convenience fee to encourage more members of the public to use EZ-Reload, to further discourage Singaporeans from using cash to top up their ez-link cards."

He said that since March, some 30,000 new users have signed up for EZ-Reload via the EZ-Link app, taking the total number of EZ-Reload users to nearly 400,000. But this is only 12 per cent of the 3.4 million ez-link card holders in Singapore, a percentage EZ-Link hopes to boost, said Mr Lee. (The 3.4 million excludes the 1.5 million concession card holders, which are not yet eligible for EZ-Reload.)

In another example, EZ-Link has since the start of July been progressively deploying a loose-change top-up service across Cheers outlets in Singapore. The service - which allows users to top up their ez-link cards with the change they receive after paying for their purchases in cash - is now available at 103 Cheers outlets here, said Mr Lee. "This service could become a means to displace cash in the system."

The common enemy is cash, he reiterated, when speaking about Singapore's e-payment ambitions and competition with the other e-payment players. Mr Lee noted that the top use case for cash in the Republic is the payment for food at hawker centres and coffee shops, followed by the giving of money from parents to children (and vice versa) and the paying of salaries to foreign domestic workers.

He told BT: "EZ-Link is in a good position (to resolve this high use of cash). Our customer base ranges from seven year olds to seniors, and we have offerings to meet the needs of users in their different stages in life. For instance, when a user buys a car and is using less public transport, we can still retain him through EZ-Pay, a service by EZ-Link that lets drivers pay for their ERP or EPS charges."

The company is developing an e-wallet for launch in 2019, Mr Lee shared. To be named EZ-Link, the digital wallet will enable users to pay for public transport or retail purchases using their smartphones - eventually making obsolete physical ez-link cards. It could also be integrated on e-commerce, food delivery and ridehailing platforms as a means of payment, said Mr Lee.

EZ-Link is exploring creating an app catered to just seniors, which will feature fewer and simplified functions, and larger fonts to boot. Mr Lee said the app could even evolve to serve not just transport or payment needs, but to increase activity among seniors. "For instance, we could work with FairPrice around shopping discounts for seniors to incentivise them to go out more and be active."

This app, when launched, could become Singapore's first transport and payment app created separately for seniors by a company. Mr Lee said: "In our interactions with seniors, we found that it may require more than roadshows and education to get them to adopt e-payments. Even after a roadshow, they may go back to their old habits. A senior-friendly app may be a simpler way to get them on board."

Of course, EZ-Link's e-payment journey hasn't been without challenges. Mr Lee said that competition for talent and legacy systems aside, the biggest obstacle is cultural transformation within the company. "We get resistance from staff, who are used to doing things in a linear way, and not in an agile manner.

"When you think transformation, you always think it's just the IT department that is involved. But it's not. It involves other units such as legal, procurement and compliance."

He told BT that the the first step at EZ-Link was to start the cultural transformation "from the top", where values are redefined and articulated to the organisation through education and awareness. The next step was to re-engineer the company's processes.

"EZ-Link is making a concerted effort to contribute to Singapore's goals to promote e-payment adoption and reduce cash handling. But first, there is a lot of work to be done within the organisation."