Single QR code system at hawker centres soon

Nets' code will be compatible with e-wallets of seven major banks; DBS dropping own code

Pay for a plate of chicken rice by scanning a QR code using your phone? Consumers here will soon be able to do so at hundreds of hawker stalls without having to fuss over which banking app to use or which code to scan.

A single QR code from e-payment stalwart Nets will soon be compatible with the e-wallets of seven major banks covering 90 per cent of retail transactions here - a move that observers say represents the first coming together of all major stakeholders in Singapore's cashless push.

Even Citibank - previously outside the Nets ecosystem - will be coming on board the Nets QR code system.

Still, the biggest change announced yesterday was DBS Bank's decision to ditch its own PayLah QR code system installed at some 1,700 hawker stalls and neighbourhood shops in favour of a common platform.

Nets said its QR code system now works with DBS Bank's e-wallet, as well as e-wallets of OCBC Bank and United Overseas Bank (UOB).

In a separate announcement, an industry taskforce co-led by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Infocomm Media Development Authority released the specifications for a common QR code dubbed SGQR. Its aim is to allow merchants to display just one QR code for scanning by any e-wallet for fuss-free fund transfers.

Singtel's Dash e-wallet is the first to accept the SGQR specification. It is currently accepted at a handful of locations, including Singtel canteens as well as those in Nanyang Technological University, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Nanyang Polytechnic.

  • 600

    Number of stalls using Nets' QR code system since its introduction in September.

Meanwhile, Nets said it will replace its QR code with a new version that incorporates the SGQR specification in the future.

The announcements by MAS and Nets mark another step towards the unified payment system Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for during the National Day Rally in August, but also reflect the difficulty in unifying Singapore's fragmented system.

Nets' existing QR code system has been rolled out to more than 600 stalls in 20 hawker centres since its introduction in September but then, the system was supported by only two banks. Meanwhile, Alipay expanded its footprint and GrabPay extended its e-payment system to cover selected food outlets.

In theory, the SGQR standard solves all the problems of merchants having to display too many QR codes to accommodate all the payment options selected by consumers - be it e-wallets of banks or those of Singtel and Grab.

"A national inter-operable system like this will accelerate the adoption of digital payments in Singapore and go a long way in supporting the country's Smart Nation payments agenda," said Ms Tan Su Shan, DBS' group head of consumer banking and wealth management.

Ms Tan, who also chairs Nets' board, said the Nets QR code system is able to integrate overseas payment services and international QR code payment schemes.

Compatibility with Citibank, HSBC, Maybank and Standard Chartered Bank is expected to be implemented some time next year.

The Straits Times understands that Citibank will be adding a QR code scanner to its banking app for cashless payments. It is unclear if HSBC, Maybank and Standard Chartered Bank will roll out their own e-wallets or use the NetsPay e-wallet launched last month for making direct debits from banking accounts.

"We feel this is the right time to make the joint push to displace cash in Singapore," said Nets chief executive officer Jeffrey Goh. He added that the plan is to get all 120 hawker centres on board the Nets QR code system by the end of next year - from 20 hawker centres in Beo Crescent, Tanjong Pagar, Yishun Park and Zion Road, and foodcourts and canteens at some polytechnics now.

Nets' merchant fees for hawkers have been waived for three years till 2020; it will cost Nets - owned by DBS, OCBC and UOB - $15 million in infrastructure and maintenance cost during the three years.

Madam Teo Seow Hua, 62, owner of a Nonya kueh stall at Beo Crescent Food Centre, said going cashless has removed the hassle of counting coins. "In the past, I had to make sure I had enough change for customers every day."

By mid-next year, all of Nets' existing 100,000 acceptance points at malls and in taxis will also be QR code-enabled, up from one-third now, including those at Cold Storage and FairPrice supermarkets.