Ronen Naishtein

Imagine this. A customer walks up to a food court in a neighbourhood mall.

Upon ordering, he is directed to a confusing array of payment schemes and systems available at the cashier. Without batting an eye, he whips out his wallet, fishes for a note and hands it over.

In Singapore, digital payment services are fast becoming king. With three in five merchants accepting e-payments, and with plans to see the country cheque-free by 2025, why are some Singaporeans still reluctant to adopt cashless payments?

It is widely acknowledged that the number of payment options available in Singapore may serve as an impediment. Instead of helping individuals choose the way they want to transact, it confuses them.


In comparison, Sweden is leading the movement towards a digital future, being the most cashless society in the world. With barely 1 per cent of the value of all payments made physically last year, the idea of being cashless is widely accepted in its society


Future-readiness measures how well an economy is prepared to digitise based on how its society responds to and incorporates new technologies daily, as well as the adaptiveness of its enterprises to integrate these technologies into their operations.

Despite its smart nation efforts to create a digital-friendly environment, Singapore came in at 15th place for future-readiness.

One aspect where Singapore could improve in comparison to its global counterparts is in its attitude towards adopting e-commerce. While the nation’s e-commerce market continues to grow, it still lags behind other markets such as US or China.

As a well-connected and small city-state, it is very easy for consumers to travel to physical shopping destinations.

With ATMs readily available to withdraw cash in Singapore, consumers have little reason to shop online – unlike in China, where consumers rely heavily on digital payments and deliveries, especially if they don’t live in a city.

Elsewhere, Singapore’s fintech adoption levels are also lower than the global average. Consumers wouldn’t switch from traditional banks to fintech providers “unless it is a brand new innovation or value proposition,” Mr Liew Nam Soon, EY ASEAN Financial Services Managing Partner at Ernst & Young Advisory, said.

Only when Singaporeans have the mindset to look beyond the status quo and be open to experimentation in their personal lives, can they implement the same mentality into business practices and processes. This is important, as the IMD business school report also called out the low agility of Singapore businesses to transform as another barrier towards future-readiness.

For example, cloud adoption can help organisations reduce cost, mitigate risks and have greater options to scale nationally and regionally. By not adopting cloud or digitally transforming, businesses risk being disrupted, or worse, losing out altogether.

Just look at our region. The Government has done a tremendous job in building Singapore as the Asian hub in various fields, such as finance, healthcare and technology. This has attracted top talent and investment from all around the world, which ensures that we have a thriving economy.

However, without being future-ready, Singapore’s ability to stay ahead of the pack may be at risk.

Other countries are catching up fast. Indonesia has more than twice as many organisations adopting artificial intelligence (AI) than Singapore.

And if other economies can adapt to new technologies better and faster, it may not be long before they bring this agile mindset to other top industry sectors – and potentially claim ownership in those in the region.

But changing a nation’s mindset to be more receptive of constant changes in technologies, systems and practices is easier said than done.


Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan once said:

We want to make sure no segment of society will be left behind and there must not be a digital divide.

Besides changing mindsets, greater emphasis needs to be placed on integrating new technologies into citizen’s everyday lives to prevent a digital divide.

NETS, an electronic payment service provider, has been deployed to centralise the disparate e-payment systems, bringing cashless payments to some 12,000 stalls within hawker centres, canteens and coffee shops nationwide.

Standardised payment options at every customer touchpoint will hopefully encourage citizens to embrace them. Then, citizens should be incentivised to go digital.


Early adopters of PayNow, a cross-bank mobile payment system, are being rewarded. By registering their National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) with the PayNow app by a certain date, citizens can receive their SG Bonus from the Government earlier compared to those waiting for a cheque to be issued.

More also needs to be done to dispel people’s fear towards change of digital developments at work. For instance, a study by data analytics company Qlik found that nine out of 10 employees in Singapore struggle to deal with data at the workplace.

We can increase data literacy levels – and instil confidence in embracing new technologies which run on data – by introducing digital learning programmes across individual levels, and public and private sectors.

As stated by Mr Parminder Singh, Chief Commercial and Digital Officer of MediaCorp, at the Future Ready Forum 2018, only when concerns about new technologies have been addressed, will people be more open to upskill and relearn their ways of working.

Ultimately, while Singapore’s citizens can be guided towards the right direction, the onus still lies with the public, society and communities to foster a forward-thinking mindset in order to stay relevant in a fast-paced technological landscape.

“Digital is not something you do, but what you are,” said Mr. Singh.