The term Smart Nation has been bandied around a lot in recent years, and the country has made great strides. There is one major obstacle in the way of achieving it however, and that is in the shape of another word that has been doing the rounds probably even more frequently – cashless. A country’s ability – or rather its people’s ability to go without cash and instead carry out transactions either via an app or at least with a card – is now seen as the main measure of how “smart” a nation is. And despite Singapore’s advancements in other areas, it is this that they may very well be judged on.
There is certainly a desire and a push to become a cashless nation. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is aiming to have a cashless transport network by the year 2020 and last month (August) put out a joint statement with TransitLink on the encouraging progress with its latest initiative, a pilot run in conjunction with Mastercard. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong even went as far as mentioning his nation’s desire to up its game and become a cashless state quicker in his speech at the National Day rally.
Signs should be encouraging. We are seen as – and are – one of the most technological advanced countries in the region. Smartphone penetration is over 100%, there should be nothing stopping Singapore from being – or at least going, cashless very soon. The facts don’t back that up though. In 2016, six out of 10 consumer transactions were done so in cash. Countries like China are well ahead (at least in the major cities) where QR scanning, along with popular digital wallets WeChat Pay and Alipay are the norm. Even India seems to be making strides ahead of the Lion Nation.
To a certain extent, Singapore is a victim of its early success. There have been cashless payments for years, with the likes of ezlink, NETS and the good old fashioned ATM cards. People have used them as and when they want to and have found a way that suits them and suits their lives. There have also been some negative impacts on using these methods. The extra 30 cents charge for the privilege of using NETS for a taxi for instance. We also have so many cards that give us the ability to pay without cash, they can start to interfere with each other when we are trying to do just that on the MRT for example. Added to that, on average, a Singaporean lives just 50 metres away from an ATM. Access to cash is just so easy.
And that brings us to the main point of what is holding the country back in achieving its aim of going 100% cash free. There needs to be a driver, a motivating and compelling reason for the man and woman on the street to ditch the thing they have used successfully all their lives and do something new. Something that they do not have 100% trust in.
At the minute, there just isn’t that reason.
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