A snapshot of digital payments in Asia

The region is home to a number of rising payment stars, all busy gaining momentum as smartphone penetration and purchasing power grows.

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A snapshot of digital payments in Asia

We’ve all heard of how you can pay for street food in Beijing with a wave of WeChat Pay or Alipay, or how it’s better to lose your wallet than your smartphone in China.

But this is not the reality in most parts of Asia whether in affluent Singapore or an emerging market like Indonesia.

A recent report by Payments Innovation Asia provided a snapshot of the dominant digital payment solutions across the region’s 10 strongest economies.

For Hong Kong, for example, the report said that people typically use their contactless Octopus card for offline transactions, paying for anything from train rides to goods in convenience stores. The company claims that there are over 35 million such cards in the market with 99% of people in Hong Kong using them. It has also launched a mobile app to allow digital and online payments as well as peer to peer transfers.

Across Southeast Asia, O2O giant Grab, which originated as a ride-hailing app, has been ramping up efforts to increase transactions using its e-wallet service GrabPay, which can be used to pay for rides and food, as well as transfer money between users.

A quick dive into the state of digital payments in a few of the Southeast Asian countries covered in the report: 

Singapore is moving towards cashless payments, but while some companies have started to offer digital or mobile payments, most prefer contactless card payments. One of the most common ways to pay is through Nets, a local firm founded in 1985 with over 100,000 acceptance points nationwide today. Although Nets was primarily a card payment company, it has recently embraced QR code payment technology. Some mobile wallets are also gaining momentum in Singapore — consumers can use solutions like PayNow and Dash to make payments and remit money with their smartphones.

Cash is still dominant in Malaysia, but things are changing with more mobile-first payment players joining the market, from Grab to Razer to WeChat. There’s an abundance of choice in some Malaysian cities. WeChat, for example, typically targets mainland Chinese users, but it has started marketing WeChat Pay to local Malaysians, throwing in subsidies in the form of free money to draw them in.

Even though there are companies like Grab and Go-Jek with their respective e-wallets in Indonesia, digital payments are still new. Consumers typically opt for bank transfers or cash on delivery to pay for goods and services online. The lack of good infrastructure and fast internet tends to deter people from paying for things online, but this is changing. With high smartphone penetration in urban areas, and a burgeoning e-commerce sales market, poised to cross US$10 billion by 2019, people are looking to go cashless with mobile apps that tout convenience.

In the Philippines, the newest entrant is InstaPay, an electronic fund transfer service, launched by the country’s central bank Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) in April 2018. The BSP aims to have 20% of all transactions be digital by 2020. Filipino consumers are positive about transacting sans cash, according to a PayPal study indicating that nearly 33% of people it surveyed said that they are already paying for goods and services cashless. Another report from Visa showed that 57% of people surveyed last year prefer electronic payments to cash, as opposed 46% in 2015.

Payment companies in Vietnam are increasingly following a mobile-first approach. One way they’re doing this is via QR codes, which is what VNPay and UnionPay International are doing through a partnership signed in June. This will allow Vietnam-based UnionPay cardholders to make payment online for things like movie or flight tickets by using the QR code feature.

For more information on digital payments in Asia, download the full report here.

Editor: Nadine Freischlad