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SE Asia region adjusts to a cashless 'new normal'

May 30. 2020
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By PRIME SARMIENTO
China Daily

In Southeast Asia, going cashless is growing to be part of the "new normal".

The novel coronavirus outbreak has encouraged most consumers in the region to adopt cashless transactions.

With governments enforcing lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus, people who were forced to stay home have resorted to digital wallets and online shopping to maintain their lifestyles.

And even as the region is gradually lifting lockdown measures, industry players expect consumers to continue to use mobile payment options.

"While people hesitate to use digital products and continue to trust the traditional method of handling money, once they try alternative digital methods, they become users because of the convenience of the product," Maria Aurora Sy-Manalang, chief technology and operations officer at Philippine carrier Globe Telecom Inc, said. Globe Telecom operates GCash-the Philippines' leading digital wallet.

"We believe that the cashless payments' share of overall consumer spending will accelerate in the coming months as the ongoing pandemic influences the payment behavior of consumers and merchants," said Sampath Sharma Nariyanuri, fintech analyst at S & P Global Market Intelligence.

As cashless transactions continue to grow, businesses themselves are expected to cater to and promote this mode of payment.

"It is unlikely that most consumers will switch back to cash. Our previous studies show that shifts to digital payments tend to be irreversible," he said.

As an example, Nariyanuri cited India where, after the government withdrew 500-rupee ($6.60) and 1,000-rupee notes from circulation in November 2016, a temporary cash crunch pushed Indians to opt for cashless payment. And, he said, while physical cash did eventually return, cashless transactions nonetheless continued to surge in India.

Nariyanuri said Southeast Asian retailers are promoting contactless payment. And central banks in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are encouraging the use of low-cost, standardized quick response codes that allow merchants to accept payment solutions offered by various banks and nonbanks.

And safety and convenience have likewise spurred more consumers across the region to use digital wallets as social distancing has become the norm amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In Brunei, food delivery application GoMamam is enjoying brisk business, with its couriers delivering as many as 200 meals a day as people stay home.

According to GoMamam's co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Hadi Wahab, a growing number of these clients are also using Quick Pay, the cashless payment system developed by Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam, the sultanate's biggest bank.

"The outbreak has forced Bruneians to adopt digital (tools) and most of them were pleasantly surprised at how easy and useful they are," Wahab said.

Sign-up rates doubled

In Malaysia, the country's top lender Maybank said sign-up rates for its MAE e-wallet doubled, while GrabPay Malaysia's cashless transactions have grown by about 1.7 times since movement control order was implemented on March 18, according to a report by local newspaper The Star.

Meanwhile, the Monetary Authority of Singapore is urging individuals and businesses in the city-state to use digital financial services and e-payments, noting that this will help in enforcing "safe distancing measures".

As for the future of digital payments given the ongoing pandemic, Manalang said: "Now more than ever, fintech will play a big part in defining a new normal in the midst of a public health crisis."

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