Countries in Southeast Asia are harmonising their instant payment capabilities to enable cross border money transfers more efficiently and at less cost while simultaneously expanding mobile payments.
Krungthai Bank announced it would launch new international money transfer and payment services linking Thailand and Singapore using QR codes in September.[i] The arrangement will allow participating banks in the two countries to make cross-border purchases by scanning a NETS payment QR code on their smartphones using Krungthai’s NEXT app.
Estimates suggest that NETS QR codes are currently used by 80% of shops and service providers in Singapore. Launched in 2017, NETS lets customers pay for goods and services using their respective bank mobile apps and NETSPay digital wallet instead of credit/debit cards.
Real-time payment systems expand
The Monetary Authority of Singapore also announced plans to link PayNow with Malaysia’s DuitNow real-time payment platform to allow citizens of both countries to transfer funds between them using just their smartphones[ii]. PayNow and DuitNow are electronic fund transfer services that enable users to transfer funds instantly to a payee using the mobile number, NRIC/FIN, Company Unique Entity Number (UEN) or Virtual Payment Address (VPA) of any recipient.
Again, the aim is to give consumers the ability to pay for goods and services using NETS or DuitNow QR codes at merchants set up to accept the payments, providing they belong to a participating bank or other financial institution. These currently include Bank of China (BOC), Citibank, HSBC, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Maybank, OCBC Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, and United Overseas Bank active in both countries.
Singapore’s PayNow service will also be linked to India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) to enable instant money transfers with low bank fees by the summer of next year.[iii] It is reported that the volume of payments between Singapore and Malaysia reached US$1.3bn in 2020, with cross-border transactions between Singapore and India accounting for another US$1bn a year.
South East Asia open to mobile payments
In its latest report – QR Code Payments: Key Opportunities, Regional Analysis & Market Forecasts 2021-2025 – Juniper Research predicts the value of QR Code payments conducted globally will reach US$2.7tn by 2025, for example, driven by low acceptance costs compared to other forms of contactless payments. Much of the growth is expected to come from retailers in emerging markets that lack the necessary credit/debit card systems, whilst those in developing economies will use them to supplement existing contactless payment card provisions.
Juniper is also forecasting fast, simultaneous expansion in user numbers – from 1.5bn in 2020 to 2.2bn by 2025, by which time almost a third (29%) of all mobile phone users are expected to use QR codes.
People in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and India are already some of the most enthusiastic mobile payments users in the world. The latest collaboration between payment service providers to promote QR codes should help continue that trend and expand the volume and value of mobile commerce (mCommerce) activity in the region.
Estimates from GlobalWebIndex suggest 68% of adults in Thailand aged between 16 and 64 (and 56% of those in Singapore and Malaysia) used a banking or financial services app such as or GrabPay or Line Pay at least once a month in the third quarter of 2020. Large numbers (79% in Singapore, 77% in Malaysia and 60% in Thailand) also used or scanned QR codes, though not necessarily to facilitate payments or money transfers, calculates GWI.
World Bank global financial inclusion data also suggests that a significant number of adults over the age of fifteen in all three countries – 9.5% in Singapore, 11% in Malaysia and 8.3% in Thailand – have a mobile money account like PayNow that stores funds in an electronic wallet linked directly to a phone number.
While the number of people using banking and financial services apps in India is comparatively low (32%), 45% use or scan QR codes and 2% have a mobile money account estimates the World Bank and GWI. That is primarily because of the phenomenal success of the UPI real-time payment system, which the National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) reports logged 3.55bn transactions worth Rs 6.39 in August this year, up over 100% on August 2020.
Irrespective of the exact payment mechanism preferred it’s clear that people in Southeast Asia are increasingly using their smartphones to send and receive money and pay for goods and services, both online and in-store.
[i] Krungthai Bank launches QR payment system, The Paypers, 21st September 2021
[ii] Singapore and Malaysia link faster payment systems, Finextra, 27th September 2021
[iii] India and Singapore to link their payments systems to enable ‘instant and low-cost’ cross-border transactions, TechCrunch, 14th September 2021