Like other governments around the world, Singapore has committed significant funds[1] –nearly S$100 billion (US$74 billion), close to 20% of GDP – to help businesses and households manage the economic impact of the global pandemic.

It’s vital support. It will help to ensure that the most vulnerable get the help they need, keep the economy buoyant and maintain levels of employment as high as possible. But to make those payments as effective as possible requires the transformation of the private and public payments ecosystem. That is vital to ensure that funds reach the citizens who are eligible to receive them quickly. The whole system has to be built with trust and transparency, and offer a touchless, enhanced service experience.

One important move in the right direction comes from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) which is working closely with The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) to promote greater adoption of e-payments among individuals and businesses[2].  Supported by MAS, ABS will mount a sustained campaign to promote the use of touchless, digital payments providers such as PayNow, PayNow Corporate, and Singapore Quick Response Code (SGQR) in the coming months. Its granting of licenses to a number of different players and consortia will enable them to develop and expand the digital payments economy. The pandemic paused these initiatives but in the recovery phase they have become more relevant and critical than ever.

Digital payments infrastructure

Singapore presents a strong case for a successful digital payments infrastructure. The barriers to adoption were already set relatively low as citizens have a high level of digital literacy. And COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation and adoption, as people increasingly seek ‘touchless’ experiences. To date, more than two million individuals have registered to use PayNow. In addition, more than 120,000 businesses have adopted PayNow Corporate and SGQR as a low cost, infrastructure-light e-payment solution. 

So, as they respond to these new needs, the different agencies – from the revenue service to trade unions - responsible for distributing funds from the government are tasked with finding ways to make payments as seamless and comprehensive as possible. That means designing their responses with empathy and building around citizens’ needs as a first principle. That will enable them to deliver a payments experience that engenders public trust.

Public service agencies need to show responsiveness to policy changes and the introduction of new schemes and subsidies, and maximise the transparency of eligibility and qualification. That’s particularly critical to make sure that the most vulnerable groups, eg the unemployed and Singapore’s senior citizens, can trust a transparent system designed to meet their needs. So what does that look like in practice? It means instant qualification for benefits, with the right money landing in the right bank account as quickly as possible, so that people in desperate situations receive the support they need as soon as possible.

Of course, there is a flipside to transparency and trust, which is the potential for fraud and non-compliance. Here, agencies need to find new ways to collaborate and share information that will enable them to focus attention on the highest value cases. Not only is fraud economically damaging, it can also erode the trust that is essential to secure collective support for any new system of payments. People need to feel confident that compliance with the system is enforced, with no exceptions. Any abuses or instances of fraud will undermine their confidence. Agencies need to work together to maximise their collective ability to spot and address any form of unethical or illegal behaviour.

Getting ahead of potential fraud

To counter potential fraud and abuse, agencies should look to intelligence and analytics. These can help detect patterns, whether made by individuals or organisations, that may indicate fraudulent transactions and behaviour. And as they increase in sophistication, analytics can look across many different potential sources of information, from social media to the dark web, to uncover such deceptions of  disbursement.

Digital payments need to offer the best possible  experience, making sure that people receive the funds they are expecting, when they expect them. But payments also need to create the greatest possible impact, generating benefits not only for the direct recipient but also for the wider economy. Inter-agency cooperation and collaboration is essential.  By harnessing shared data, as Singapore is already able to with its cross-agency data hub[3], economic modelling can highlight the interventions most likely to create the optimal ‘bang for the buck’.

COVID-19 has created a great many challenges, and its economic fall-out will be hard for many. But the pandemic has also created a great opportunity to build a digital payments system that works for everyone, supporting them in the moments in life that matter now and building a robust economic future for all.

 

1 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/26/singapore-plans-fourth-stimulus-package-for-coronavirus-hit-economy.html

2 hhttps://www.mas.gov.sg/news/media-releases/2020/mas-urges-use-of-digital-finance-and-e-payments-to-support-covid-19-safe-distancing-measures

3 https://www.psd.gov.sg/challenge/ideas/deep-dive/aligning-to-work-as-one

Geoffrey Pong

Managing Director – Health & Public Service, Client Lead, Southeast Asia

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