Five countries to watch for e-payments

Learn how these five governments are introducing mobile payments, national payment systems, and digital wallets.

Cash is on its way out, it seems. Governments across the globe are introducing digital and mobile payment systems in a push to become cashless economies. A study shows that 34% of Europeans and 38% of Americans would be willing to go cash-free if they could, Reuters reported. In Asia, China is an early adopter of digital payments, with 95% of Chinese using smartphones and mobile wallets to pay for goods and services. Other countries are just starting on their journey; Singapore, for example, has plans to set up a national e-payments platform as part of its Smart Nation initiative. There has also been “slow take-up” of Thailand’s new e-payment system, the Straits Times reported. Below, read GovInsider's roundup of how five governments are introducing e-payments to serve their citizens better. 1. Payments and medical services at your fingertips In Guangzhou, China, citizens have for the past few years used digital payments to pay for public transport fares and medical services. They can use WeChat Pay, a mobile payment service by Tencent’s social media company, to pay for metro fares. The WeChat Pay service is popular in China; users can set up a digital wallet to transfer funds to contacts or make online purchases with registered vendors. “If I want to send some money, I can very quickly transfer. Five seconds is enough,” Cai Chaolin, the Vice Mayor of Guangzhou, told GovInsider. Citizens can also pay for prescriptions online, which will then be sent to the respective patients’ homes, according to Cai. Citizens in Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen can also use WeChat Pay to pay for electricity bills and traffic fines. A Penguin Intelligence study shows that 92% of people in China’s top-tier cities chose mobile payment methods such as WeChat Pay as their preferred way to pay in retail stores. 2. Transactions through smart cards Sri Lanka is building a national digital identity system to ensure that transactions can be digitally-verified. Each citizen will receive a smart card for payments and identification. “20 million people in this country will have digital identity within the next three years,” Digital Chief Muhunthan Canagey tells GovInsider, adding that the programme is estimated to cost over US$100 million. With the system, Sri Lankans can register online for social welfare, and receive social welfare payments directly to digital wallets. They will also be able to share and sign personal documents like birth certificates and licences digitally. The platform will integrate both public and private sector services, and authenticate citizens based on biometrics such as fingerprints and iris scans or the traditional username and password. “We are building it such that authentication can be provided as a service,” says Canagey. 3. Biometric payments for tourism boost In a bid to boost tourist numbers ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan has introduced a biometric payments system for visitors to the country. When tourists first arrive at the airport, they can register their fingerprints. This allows them to make purchases that are free from local taxes, and identify themselves at hotels instead of having to provide their passports. The project kicked off last summer with 300 participating shops, restaurants and hotels. The Japanese government will also be using the data collected from these biometric scanners to devise tourism strategies. By the 2020 Olympics, the government hopes to implement it throughout the country. 4. A “huge digital payments boom” India has launched a Unified Payments Interface that enables money to be transferred between mobile money services and bank accounts. The country is seeing a “huge digital payments boom” at the moment; its digital payments market is already on track to become a $500bn industry, it was reported. This growth in digital payments is largely in response to the Indian government’s decision to pull high-value banknotes out of circulation in November 2016, causing disruptions to an economy that was still largely cash-based. Last month, the chat app Whatsapp launched its payment service in India as part of the UPI project, taking on the other big player in the space, PayTM. There are 160 million Whatsapp users in India, many of whom are using the app for transactions between users. “I’ve seen people selling baby clothes, medicines, art and craft supplies—it’s become a Craigslist type of offering,” Neil Shah, an analyst at Counterpoint Research, told the Financial Times. 5. Mobile payments to serve the underbanked Bangladesh has a large rural population, and is still a heavily cash-reliant society. But over 80% of Bangladeshis own mobile phones—which can be used to provide financial services to underbanked citizens. A team within the Prime Minister’s Office, Access to Information, is making this happen by partnering with bKash, the largest mobile financial service organisation in the country. A2i has set up thousands of computer centres across the country that offer mobile financial services. Rural customers can deposit cash or send money through the use of text messages. And sometime in the future, Bangladeshis will be able to receive social welfare payments on their phone or a smart card. A2i is working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build a new social welfare system that registers citizens using their biometric data, such as their fingerprints. With digital payments fast coming to the fore, paper money may one day be made obsolete, much like the floppy disk or the cassette tape.