Building an inclusive, customer-centric digital payments ecosystem is no easy feat

This post is sponsored by EZ-Link.

Debuting as a local pioneer of e-payments in the early 2000s, EZ-Link is now just shy of two decades old. In that time, the digital payments landscape has evolved drastically. From just a handful of companies facilitating primarily card-based payments, the industry has grown to include a wide variety of fintech offerings.

Consumers in Singapore can now choose from more than 40 different mobile payment services by companies ranging from traditional banks to tech giants, ride-hailing businesses and fintech start-ups.

Such a thriving fintech ecosystem requires each player to step up their game and future-proof their offerings to ensure they remain relevant in the long term, and EZ-Link is no exception.

Over the years, we have expanded and improved our products to meet the changing lifestyle needs of the daily commuter, while still delivering the everyday convenience we’re best known for.

The introduction of the EZ-Link App and ongoing enhancements of the EZ-Link Rewards programme enabled us to deliver value-added services and rewards to our customers, while collaborations with partners such as You Technologies Group and Mastercard gave rise to YouTrip – Singapore's first multi-currency wallet.

Looking back at a year of disruption and change

These milestones were part of a broader transformation plan aimed at enabling EZ-Link to better serve our customers beyond their daily commute and across the other areas of their lives. We had ambitions to grow our network internationally in view of Singaporeans’ propensity to travel, through collaborations with payment partners such as Alipay and Touch n’ Go. However, like many other organisations, we found our plans disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The silver lining was the pandemic drastically accelerated digitalisation across all sectors, including the payments industry. It created an environment that necessitated remote and touchless services, and drove both the adoption and usage of e-payments solutions across the board. In fact, traditional banks in Singapore have noticed a sharp drop in cash withdrawals and deposits alongside unprecedented growth in the number of e-payment transactions as early as April last year.

For EZ-Link, the pandemic accentuated the importance of the EZ-Link Wallet, which was launched in March 2020 as part of our ongoing transformation strategy.

While it is still in its early days, we have seen encouraging usage trends, and are optimistic the mobile wallet will encourage the adoption of e-payments in the wider community, particularly for everyday transactions.

For instance, almost 70% of users are using the wallet for payments at various local hawker stalls to date. We will continue to expand our network beyond the 10,000 acceptance points across hawker centres, retail outlets, and other merchants that currently accept the EZ-Link Wallet via the Singapore Quick Response Code today.

The road ahead for the payments industry

While not without challenges, the future of digital payments is seemingly bright with opportunities amid growing smartphone penetration as well as increasingly digital-friendly consumer lifestyles and sentiments.

Within the next couple of years, we can expect greater integration and interoperability within the industry. In Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has taken the lead in driving innovation with the opening of payment rails to non-bank financial firms last December. At the same time, we can expect security to remain a critical, fundamental requirement as industry players collaborate and new organisations enter the playing field. It is undeniable the pressure is on digital payment providers to deliver secure and seamless payments for any imaginable product or service.

Amid rapid industry developments, one issue EZ-Link is increasingly conscious of in our operations and strategy is ensuring inclusivity in the inevitable shift towards digitisation. Prioritising our customers’ needs has always been at the heart of our business model and our transformation road map is anchored by our core mission to bring value to all Singaporeans and ensure that no one is left behind.

The digital divide challenge is ultimately a shared responsibility and can only be overcome through collective efforts. To this end, we will continue to work closely with the government and partners such as the SG Digital Office to explore how we can make our offerings more accessible for less visible consumer segments.

There is much to be done in the years ahead, and collaboration – both within the industry and with consumers – will prove to be a critical enabler to ensure we achieve our digital ambitions, inclusively.

 

The writer is Nicholas Lee, CEO, EZ-Link.