Going Cashless in Singapore – Be Rewarded or Be Left Behind

I’ve been working on this blog post for the past 3 months (well since July 2018) but it somehow always gets pushed down to my low priority list. Even watching and completing yanxi palace came to me of higher priority.

Well, back in the days where I was working in CBD area, I challenged my colleague to do a cashless week challenge where we had to survive without cash for a week. Should we fail to do so, we will get points deducted and the person with the highest number of points will win. Sadly, no one was keen on this challenge and I gave up on the self-declared cashless challenge (for myself) after one day.

Now that my office has shifted to the heartland area, the cashless challenge becomes increasingly hard and the reliance I have on cash is all-time high as our lunch is mainly at coffee shops and hawker centers. To date, I’ve only found one caifan place which accepts GrabPay and one Mala place which accepts FavePay. Apart from that, I also use Apple Pay on a regular basis as it is so convenient. I don’t even have to open my wallet to search for my card when at the cashier. However, credit card payments are still not widely accepted yet, especially among the unknown brands. I still heavily rely on cash 90% of the time.

When it comes to drinks, brands like Gong Cha accepts cashless modes. I love their self-service payment machine which accepts PayLah and there’s a 10% cashback promotion now. Other brands like Hollin accepts favepay which offers 10% return credits. On the other hand, more traditional options like fruit juice stalls only accept Cash.

How do I get cash then? I no longer withdraw money from the ATM (unless it’s a huge amount) but I get my cash from the mama shop partners of So Cash. To date, I frequent about 3 So Cash outlets within my vicinity and I get to enjoy $1 savings for every $30 I withdraw via PayLah app. No idea how much cash they are ‘burning’ from this promotion but it’s still an easy and fuss free (pretty low effort for me) option to get cash in my wallet.

<If you have the patience to read my lengthy intro, you’ll be rewarded with the tips that I’m going to share next>

I’m always a fan of discounts, rebates and perks – and that was the trigger for me to make the switch to embrace the cashless society which Singapore is aiming to be.

During my visit to Shanghai back in Oct 2017, I was shocked and somewhat impressed at how successful the country/city was in being cashless. Being a tourist in China with no access to AliPay and WeChatPay, we felt very alienated from the convenience, perks and discounts that the locals could get. Even at the night markets, vendors struggle to find you change for your cash payment. They would highly prefer you to pay via their QR code, which we had no access to.

I’m pretty much an early adopter of Cashless payments. Almost every sort of promotion moves me (at least for the welcome bonus) and I have at least 10 banking/finance/payment apps in my phone right now. After my visit to Shanghai, I became more determined in my cashless goal.

I’ll start off by sharing my more commonly used mobile-payment apps.

1. DBS PayLah!

Image result for dbs paylah

After checking through my SMS history on my phone, it seems like I signed up for this DBS Mobile Wallet back in Aug 2015. PayLah! may sound pretty ancient but it is in fact not the first mobile wallet. The first mobile wallet I had used was Dash, when it was still branded under Standard Chartered. I remember using it back in the days of 2013-14 in the Watsons at Resorts World Sentosa. There was a free $5 credit which I could immediately offset my next purchase. Today, Dash was taken/bought over by Singtel and I haven’t been using it much except to pay my handphone bills via credit card.

Despite being an early adopter of PayLah! back in 2015, I only started using it more frequently from 2017, after the launch of PayNow (the govt initiative). Merchants, include hawkers in the CBD area started to be NETS QR accepting and together with their promotional campaigns, my usage of the app increased bit by bit.

Also, they do have pretty decent marketing campaigns that attracted me.

  1. Refer a friend and earn $5 PayLah! credits
    Believe it or not, I have only successfully referred 2 friends.
    Well, you can’t expect much from peer-to-peer referral programs when they are giving the whole entire world the same benefit of $5 across all their partners.
    Despite aiming to influence more people, my friends/relatives/people who know me aren’t very supportive when it comes to using my referral codes. Well, their referral process isn’t the most friendly one after all and the people around me tend to be lazy, even if it means forsaking that extra free $5 CASH. To be honest, I’m better off earning from my readers of this blog (via referrals) than my own friends/family but I can’t blame them either cause ‘wanting to save’ is a choice not an obligation. I guess life goes on..Note: DBS cap their referral benefit at 10 friends so the maximum you can earn from this is only $50.
  2. Pay your Comfort Taxi by PayLah and receive $15 ($5 x 3 times)
    I first ‘discovered’ that Comfort accepts PayLah! payment when I saw the advertisement for the $15 Cashback promotion when you pay for your taxi via PayLah! by scanning the QR code on their machine. The promotion has since ended and I’ve received the $15 (yay!) in my account. I have successfully converted to using PayLah! for most (if not all) of my Comfort taxi payment. I no longer pay via cash and I don’t pay via NETS cause of the $0.30 surcharge and I’ve never used credit cards because of the extra fee.
    Then again, Comfort and taxi flagging is usually a backup option for Grab – when the surge becomes crazy or when you just can’t find a driver.For now (not sure if it is a short-term promotion), we do not have to pay $0.30 admin fee when we use PayLah! Should this promotion end, I may switch back to cash. When the promotion first started, I had to be like the brand ambassador of PayLah!, teaching Taxi Drivers how to select QR Code for payment. 80% of the time, the drivers were clueless and I had to tell them what to press. Thankfully, the experience was smooth and none of the drivers rejected the hassle and in fact I’m glad that the driver are willing to embrace the cashless culture well.
  3. Movie Discounts at GV when you pay by PayLah!
    This is rather new-er promotion but I hardly get to use it as I usually watch my movies on Weekends, using my HSBC movie card @ $9.50/ticket. Alternatively, I watch my movies on Tuesdays where I enjoy the GV member price of $6.50. If all else fails, I could also enjoy the various discounts on the other days, ranging from $1 to $2 OFF.
  4. Discounts @ various Hawkers
    With the introduction of PayNow, NETS and partners were giving like $0.50 discounts when you pay at various Hawker stalls. I still remember the PayNow initiative was launch at Tanjong Pagar Market and I was so excited about it and visited that place for lunch. I managed to speak to the hawkers and found out that they were given cash incentives to accept the device and use it. There were some stalls that telling us the device was spoilt (perhaps no battery or something) and refused payments. To be honest, I don’t feel the adoption went well with the Hawkers as I don’t see many people using it. I’m pretty sure the numbers are increasing slowly but without promotions, it’s difficult to move sticky customers. For me, I will always opt for cashless payment when it is an available option as I do not like to deal with cash.
  5. Partnering with SoCash
    SoCash, a start-up aiming to reduce the dependency of ATMs for cash withdrawal, has launched a full-fledged marketing campaign in the CBD area for the past 3 months (if I’m not wrong). They distributed flyers enticing people with the free $10 cash and the only bank working with this app right now is DBS – providing 2 options, via PayLah or direct debit from your DBS/POSB account. I’ll talk more about SoCash in another point below.

Thoughts about PayLah!

It is definitely a success; but of course, there are two schools of thought. PayLah exists for the conservative ones who are uncomfortable to link their entire savings account to a mobile app. You can set a limit of $300 per transaction or capped the amount you ‘risk’ losing if you think that putting your bank details is dangerous when you lose your mobile phone. Today, me and my friends/colleagues/acquaintances just seamlessly transfer money to each other, especially when you refuse (or perhaps too paiseh) to accept a treat. No cash, no coins? Just PayLah! No PayLah? You can also use OCBC’s Pay Anyone or UOB Mighty and opt to pay via PayNow.

Can PayLah! ever be sustainable and monetize from their platform? To be honest, I’m still clueless about this. Without the continuous marketing efforts rolling out free rebates (there’s increasing pressure for instant rebates/cashback), people may just continue to fall back on Cash. The only way it can move forward even faster is when merchants are more receptive to accepting it. For Gongcha, they even made it somewhat compulsory for customers to order through their kiosk machine, making cashless payments (be it NETS, NETSQR, Debit/Credit, PayWave, Apple/Android Pay). The end goal.. is what China is like – merchants gladly embracing mobile payment and making you feel uncomfortable when they have to dig their purses to find you the loose change.

Anyway, since PayLah! is backed by DBS Bank, I’m pretty sure it is here to stay.

2. FavePay

Image result for favepay logo

Apart from Apple Pay (not really an app) and PayLah, the most number of payments I’ve made on my mobile phone seems to be fave pay. Scrolling through my history, the first transaction I made with favePAY was back in November 2017 and till date, I’ve made 40 transactions through them. Since Groupon exited the market, fave has been growing pretty big, at least in the places that I frequent. They kind of had a slight first-mover advantage among their competitors (like GrabPay which launched in Dec 2017) as they already had a wide base of merchants via their deals platform.

The ‘best’ part about fave pay is that it allows you to pay at merchants which previously didn’t accept credit card payments. From small cafes to random hawker stores, I do see the favepay payment option more frequently. Back in the days (had it been a year?), I vaguely remember favepay hiring brand ambassadors to station at certain merchants to educate and incentivize downloads and usage for their app. They started off with a $3 promo code and referral benefit for first-time users but it has since been reduced to $2. To be honest, $2 is a little on the low side and I struggle to influence my friends to download.

Anyway, another plus point of favepay is that they offer 5 to 15% cashback (at the same merchant) when you pay via favepay. If you make multiple purchases in one single visit, you can offset your purchases again and again. We had lunch in this restaurant and then we footed the bill which was about $120-150. After footing the bill, we had $12-15 cashback in the wallet and we used the cashback money to buy more drinks and desserts. It was a pleasant surprise to receive somewhat instant gratification.

That being said, I use favepay more for convenience sake, rather than wanting to return for a second visit. A lot of my earned cashback expires (which means fave earns from the residual) but I don’t really care; unless the amount is sizeable. I currently have $17.94 worth of cashback across 17 merchants.

Thoughts about favePAY

I hope their business model is sustainable because I definitely want them around for the convenience. They are pretty aggressive in terms of merchants acceptance. While scrolling their ‘places near me’ collection, I do see the increasing number of familiar brands. I honestly wonder what type of perks they offer merchants for them to accept a new mode of payment so easily. Also, what I like about them is that they are pretty transparent about their data (number of people that paid before, ratings of merchants etc.) and according to the ‘places near you’ list in my app, the number of people that have paid ranges from 0 to 1470. Seems like a pretty easy way to stalk my competitors if I’m in the business.

3. GrabPay

Image result for grabpay

Grab – a master of second-mover advantage has evolved from being just a transport app, to a master of all trades including food deliveries, payments and rewards. I wouldn’t be surprise if they move towards the social element in time to come. To be honest, their copying skills are really a level up (but I guess this is how the industry is like today). When Uber first launched UberPool, they came up with their GrabShare service. The only valuable addition which was not copied was their ‘GrabHitch’ service – something which was threading in super grey areas – where everyday drivers can ‘earn’ money from driving. Well, it’s not exactly an ‘earn’ model, cause you’re technically not allowed to moonlight. So they crafted the messaging as receiving reimbursement for fuel/ERP charges. really grey. Also, since few months back where they finally beccame the monopoly in Singapore, they started charging 10% surcharge from the drivers after increasing the prices for the hitch rides. At the end of the day, consumers who are unable to switch out of their dependency on Grab suffers. Level-headed indivduals like myself will opt for public tranportation.

Over the past couple of months, Grab had been in the news – all for the bad/wrong/negative reasons. Today, they announced a glitch in their app which resulted in all rides costing $6. Some time ago, they stopped the Hitch Service between 1am to 5am, citing security as an issue but we all know from the bottom of our hearts is that it’s all about the cash.

Oh well, Grab has been growing at a weirdly rapid pace, dabbling into random things that make sense but as time goes by, you will kind of forget that it is predominantly a transport app. It started on transport, went on to acquire its largest competitor Uber and got penalized by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) with a $13 million fine. Beyond transport, they went into food deliveries, payments, rewards and the latest one is parcel deliveries. I’m still pretty excited to see what other services they would like to bring under the Grab umbrella.

Okay, apologies for digressing way off the main agenda. Well, sometime last year (I believe it was Nov 2017), Grab announced its decision to enter the payments scene. It somehow felt like a copycat or perhaps friendly “inspired-from” Go-Jek. Well, according to my GrabPay history, my first top-up to my Grab Wallet was during their FlashBang event in Dec 2017. I remember doing so because I wanted to enjoy some cashback or something along that line. Or did they give free grab ride promo codes? Then 2018 came and they started to infiltrate into the hawker stores (wow!). I still remember one hawker at Maxwell who was so happy to accept GrabPay payments. Spoke to one hawker and found out that they offered to pay the hawker $1 more for every $3 received. As a result of this 33% increase in profits, hawkers gladly accepted the GrabPay payment – which was transferred to the merchant at midnight. (This information is not validated. I just happen to get some information while praising the hawkers in their effort to embrace technology and QR payments).

I guess that’s how Grab choose to roll. Throw discounts and promo codes to get acquisition and create the habit and reliance of consumers on their product. Make you happy for about 6 months to 2 years (depending on how fast they ‘kill’ off the competitors) and then they will start clawing back everything – like how no-strings-attached Grab rides promos are as rare as.. i don’t know. They are just very rare now.

That being said, my relationship with Grab seems like a one-sided love story, fueled based on promo codes with minimal loyalty. Their payments facility is growing, but I find the growth and my own adoption rate being rather slow. While they held lame marketing campaigns to promote peer-to-peer transfer, like transferring $0.01 to get back minimum $0.08 angbao, I never ventured beyond using it as a dependable wallet, unlike paylah, pay now which was directly linked to a bank account. They like to do pretty sneaky things like forcing you to top up GrabCredits to make GrabFood payments. So they throw GrabFood rewards in your face and if you are enticed by them – you will end up fulfiling 2 of their KPI – using GrabPay and using GrabFood. one stone kill two birds. awesome.

4. SoCash

Related image

Technically this ‘app’ shouldn’t belong in this article as the 3 apps above aim to reduce reliance on physical cash but the goal of SoCash is to allow you to withdraw Cash from ‘mama shop’, convenience stores by using your mobile phone. It currently partners DBS (PayLah or direct debit to savings account) and it allows you to withdraw cash without the need of an ATM card.

Well, I first got to know of this app via a flyer distributed at CBD area. They were offering $10 FREE CASH which was given out in denominations of $5 (for your first withdrawal) and subsequently $1 for your next 5 transactions.

The steps may seem a little complicated at first but after doing it a few times, I feel its a lot more convenient than queuing up at the ATM machine.

First, you have to search for your nearest cashpoint location. Upon selecting the location, you can request for the cash while you are walking towards the shop. Upon reaching the shop, inform the staff that you are here for SoCash and they will take out this orange device and you will have to click a ‘i have arrived’ button and then scan the QR code on their device. Then, you will have to make payment via PayLah (app-to-app transfer) or iBanking which takes about 3-4 steps of keying in password/face ID and soon enough you will get your cash from the staff.

There’s one shamless hack that I always do. As SoCash limits the $1 discount on a per transaction basis, I often request for the cash in two separate transactions ($30 x 2) and go through the request process twice in order to enjoy the discount savings. Initially, I was a little paiseh but after I learn that the shopkeeper actually gets transactional bonus (I think it’s $0.20) for each occurrence, I was more than happy to let them ‘earn’.

Anyway, when they started, the referral benefit was $5 but it has since reduced to $3. If you require a referral code, feel free to leave a comment with your mobile number and I’ll send it over to you 😀

Thoughts about SoCash

I really love the idea behind SoCash. In actual reality, the cost of maintaining an ATM machine is pretty hefty – you need to pay for location rental, transportation of cash etc. However, with SoCash, they make use of the mini shops to disburse cash that would have otherwise require a visit to the bank. If you are able to find the perfect equilibrium, there would be a lot of savings from the time required to visit a bank/queue for ATM etc.

At the same time, I’m also pretty worried about the scalability of their business idea as the nation gears towards a cash-lite society. As of now, we are still heavily reliant on cash but we wouldn’t know when the cashless-notion will pace up to be like China. The day may not come soon, but it is an impending possibility. Nevertheless, I love the idea that this app truly solves a real problem and I hope that they will be able to last.

For myself, I can’t even remember the last time I had to visit an ATM. Oh wait, I last did it when I needed to withdraw large amount of cash to exchange at the money changer. Aside from rare situations which I require large amounts of cash, I have been using the SoCash withdrawal rather frequently. I even identified 3 mama shops around my workplace with this service.

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