Leading Singapore payment services group, NETS and ComfortDelGro Taxi have announced a new partnership to drive digital payments adoption at hawker centres across the island through a new incentive programme that rewards ComfortDelGro taxi drivers for every new hawker that they sign up.
The ‘Hawker Champion’ incentive programme supports the e-payments thrust in Singapore’s Smart Nation vision. Together with NETS’ existing ‘Go Cashless’ consumer campaign, it is expected to help build a cashless ecosystem at hawker centres.
The NETS QR code was launched in September 2017, as a standardised QR code able to accept payments from different banking apps including DBS Paylah!, OCBC’s PayAnyone and UOB’s Mighty, with plans to include other payment wallets in future. NETS also provides hawkers with a single settlement report that consolidates all the different payment types.
ComfortDelGro cabbies are familiar with cashless payment options and they were amongst the first to use the NETS QR code payment solution in their taxis.
Under the programme, ComfortDelGro cabbies will introduce the NETS QR code payment solution to hawkers unfamiliar with the system. Interested hawkers will be referred to NETS and cabbies will be rewarded for every hawker that signs up for NETS services.
The cabbies and staff will receive a $10 NETS FlashPay card (NETS FlashPay card valued at $5 and usage value of $5) when they download the NETSPay app.
The programme is being piloted amongst 100 cabbies who have already undergone customised training from NETS and will be rolled out to the rest of the fleet over the next few months. The partnership aims to see 15,000 cabby-ambassadors reach out to their favourite hawkers to encourage them to sign up as NETS merchants.
NETS CEO, Jeffrey Goh, said, “We’re excited to be partnering with ComfortDelGro Taxi on this new programme – after all, who knows hawkers better than taxi drivers? Ask any taxi driver for food recommendations and they’ll be able to point you to their favourite hawker stalls all over Singapore. Hence, we thought they’d be the perfect ambassadors to help us reach out to their favourite hawkers and encourage them to embrace cashless payments since the drivers themselves are familiar with NETS QR payments.”
Mr Ang Wei Neng, CEO of ComfortDelGro Taxi added, “Our cabbies are familiar with different kinds of cashless payments on our taxis and they appreciate the convenience of cashless payments. To be an ambassador for cashless payments at hawker centre is an extension of something that they are familiar with. In the process, we are happy that our cabbies can be part of the effort in moving Singapore towards becoming a Smart Nation.”
The press release from NETS quotes Tham Yuet Kok, 69, who is one of the first 100 cabbies to sign on the programme, “Having gone through the transition from cash to cashless and, now cardless payments, I have come to appreciate the convenience that cashless payments bring. But I also fully understand the concerns hawkers may have, and will be able to share my
experience with them.”
Recently, EZ-Link and NETS announced their first interoperable payments system in which e-payments can be made by EZ-Link (a contactless smart card used for the payment of public transportation fares in Singapore) and concession cards through all NETS terminals at hawker centres in Singapore.
NETS is waiving all terminal and transaction fees for three years to encourage the installation of NETS terminals by hawkers. There are currently more than 1,000 stalls across 70 hawker centres which accept NETS QR code and NETS card payments, including those at Beo Crescent, Tanjong Pagar, Yishun Park and Zion Road. NETS is also accepted at food courts and canteens at Singapore Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Nanyang Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic and the Nanyang Technological University.
NETS is also offering rebates to customers under the ‘Go Cashless’ consumer campaign to drive consumer adoption of QR code payments. The first 288 customers who make eight QR code payments a month at any participating hawker centre from 17 November 2017 to 31 March 2018 will receive S$28 in rebates. The top three hawker stalls who attain the highest number of cashless transactions on a monthly basis will receive S$388, S$288 and S$188 respectively.
Cashless hawker centres
Several initiatives have been launched since last year to accelerate the adoption of e-payments in Singapore. This includes the development of a common Singapore Quick Response Code (SG QR) by an industry taskforce co-led by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). The SG QR will be adopted and deployed by payment services providers in Singapore through 2018. For smaller merchants, the QR code option has the benefit of not requiring payment terminals.
However, challenges remain in changing preferences and behaviour for customers, as well as small cash-based merchants, such as hawker centre stall owners. Last week, a Straits Times report presented a mixed picture regarding cashless payments at the Jurong West hawker centre, where stalls accept eight different kinds of e-payments. Problems such as fees on certain e-payment systems and delayed credit to the stall owners’ accounts are hindering adoption. Many customers also appear to prefer cash for the low value transactions at hawker centres.
The National Environment Agency (NEA), Housing & Development Board (HDB), MAS and Smart Nation and the Digital Government Office (SNDGO) jointly issued a Request for Information (RFI) for electronic payment (e-payment) solutions to support micro-payments mainly at small food shops and others in August last year.
Simultaneously, initiatives like this new partnership between NETS and ComfortDelGro or DBS’ Smart Nation Ambassador Programme (launched in May 2017 aiming to recruit 1000 ambassadors to encourage small cash-based merchants to adopt QR code payment option), could complement efforts by the government and industry towards creating a cashless society in Singapore.
With COVID-19 still showing no signs of slowing down, the Philippine government continues to look for ways to improve its overall digital make-up for the benefit of its citizens and other governing agencies. One of which is opening areas in the country to allow movement of people to aid its economic recovery while also placing necessary measures to help contact-tracing protocols.
Accordingly, the country’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has adopted the Safe, Swift, and Smart Passage (S-PaSS) Travel Management System developed by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and will now be institutionalised as the one-stop-shop app for travellers. This is considering the approval by the IATF of the uniform travel protocols for all local government units (LGUs).
The StaySafe.ph app, meanwhile, will be utilised as the primary contact tracing system by the Government. Other existing contact tracing applications will also be integrated with the StaySafe.ph system. The S-PaSS, developed by DOST VI initially as a travel management system, was primarily intended to make a hassle-free journey for Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs), Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs), Emergency Travelers (ETS), and other travellers during this pandemic.
The S-PaSS is also meant to benefit not only the travellers but also the authorities to properly monitor the movement of people in different locations in the effort to prevent the spread of the virus. With the app, travellers can apply for Travel Authority (TA) online before visiting their local police station where the QR Code can be used to view one’s TA, as well as register at designated monitoring locations and track one’s travel history.
For the Philippine National Police (PNP), the tool can integrate the process of issuing a Travel Authority to quickly generate real-time reports. Likewise, in the case of other LGUs and monitoring agencies, the system will allow real-time monitoring of incoming travellers and provide convenient tracking of travellers by setting up designated monitoring locations and likewise quickly generate real-time reports. The system has a local mobility feature that replaces the use of pen-and-paper or logbooks. It can also be used to document and monitor border crossings in LGUs.
The travellers will be monitored by scanning their unique S-PaSS QR Code every time they visit an establishment and office. The system will then automatically record information on its ELogBook for recording and monitoring purposes.
Moreover, rapid adoption of digital technologies can help the Philippines overcome the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, recover from the crisis, and achieve its vision of becoming a middle-class society free of poverty, according to the report released by the World Bank and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
The report stated that this pandemic has caused substantial disruptions in the domestic economy as community restrictions have limited the movement of people and reduced business operations nationwide. As we are now living with the new normal, the use of digital technology and digital transformation has become important for Filipinos in coping with the present crisis, moving towards economic recovery, and getting back on track towards the nation’s long-term aspirations.
Likewise, as reported by OpenGov Asia, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced several governments to re-examine the way they do things, how they interact with their citizens and how they keep their country functioning in these unprecedented times. Digital solutions in areas such as government services, education, the media, communication systems, and the economy have allowed some form of continuity in day-to-day life during a lockdown.
Although most Governments throughout South-East Asia are gradually moving towards complete digitalisation, they are all at very different stages of their digital transformation journey. It is also likely that Governments of the future will increase spending on digital infrastructure, adopt data-driven approaches in response to economic recovery, and leverage technology solutions to implement COVID-19 strategies.
A bioaerosols research project aimed at developing innovative and effective methods for detecting and disinfecting bacteria and viruses including SARS-CoV-2 in indoor environments led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has secured HK$ 6.15 million from the Research Impact Fund under the Research Grants Council. Bioaerosols are very small airborne particles containing living organisms and has been considered one of the possible routes of the spreading of Covid-19.
Professor Alvin Lai Chi-keung, Associate Head of the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering and Project Coordinator stated, “The Covid-19 pandemic has already resulted in over 110 million cases and 2.5 million deaths globally since 2020. Our bioaerosols study addresses an urgent need in Hong Kong and globally to rapidly detect and eliminate pathogens in indoor air, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The outcomes from this study will not only immediately contribute to the fight against Covid-19 but also significantly raise our preparedness for future pandemics.”
This four-year research project is titled “Rapid Detection and Synergetic Disinfection of Bioaerosols Using Far UVC and Negative Air Ions: Mechanistic and Field Studies”.
Current methods for sampling bioaerosols cannot detect rapidly and effectively microorganisms of all sizes, especially viruses that are submicron in diameter. In order to address these shortcomings, the research team will try to couple advanced aerosol technology with molecular biology techniques such as nucleic acid-based methods to enable fast and accurate detection of targeted microorganisms. Nucleic acid-based methods are now used for testing humans, but the team will use them to analyse air samples.
These new methods will be deployed to profile the bioaerosol composition in different indoor settings in Hong Kong. In addition, the team will combine Far UVC light (far ultraviolet C light) and negative air ions to harness the synergistic effects between the two to achieve over 99.9% removal of bacteria and viruses.
Recently Far UVC has been found to be more effective in the disinfection of microorganisms and most importantly safer than conventional UVC, a known disinfectant that inactivates viruses and bacteria. Negative air ions can also disinfect microorganisms.
After the novel disinfection process has been developed in the laboratory, field tests will be conducted in diverse buildings in Hong Kong to verify its effectiveness under real-life conditions. The team will investigate how the ambient transformation of bioaerosols can influence disinfection effectiveness through laboratory experiments that mimic typical indoor conditions.
The team’s target is to develop a rapid and accurate method for detecting bioaerosols and fabricate a prototype with a high disinfection efficacy against a wide range of pathogens in different indoor environments.
It is a challenge to design a practical device that can disinfect airborne pathogens within a short exposure time, particularly portable units. However, the team members’ background in aerosol science and technology and microbiology will overcome the difficulties, he added.
Other team members include Professor Chan Chak-keung, Dean and Chair Professor of the School of Energy and Environment (SEE), CityU; Dr Patrick Lee Kwan-hon, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of SEE; and scholars from the Kanazawa University, Japan and University of Hong Kong.
Professor Chan has over 30 years of research experience in air pollution and aerosol science and Dr Lee’s research interest lies in biologically-related environmental problems. They are both Co-Principal Investigators of the project.
A crowdsourcing mobile application to enhance accessibility for specially-abled individuals has been launched in New Delhi. The app aims to augment built-up environments (steps, ramps, emergency exits), the transportation sector, and the information communication technologies (ICTs) ecosystem in India.
The Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot, virtually launched the Sugamya Bharat application as well as a handbook called, “Access – The Photo Digest”, which have both been developed by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD).
According to a press release, the app provides five main features, four of which are directly related to enhancing accessibility. The fifth is meant for only COVID-19-related issues. Users can register complaints about public places, services, or utilities that are inaccessible. They will be able to upload photographs and geo-tag the location of the premises for authority intervention. Users will also receive departmental updates, guidelines, and circulars related to accessibility on the mobile application.
The Minister explained that the app, which is available in ten regional languages, aims to help spread awareness and make public spaces, transportation, and other services more accessible. The implementation of accessibility-related activities across the country is a step towards the vision of a universally-accessible and inclusive India, the release noted.
The app’s interface is user-friendly and features easy drop-down menus and tutorials in Hindi, English, and sign language that demonstrate how to register or upload complaints with photographs. The app offers font-size adjustments, color-contrasting options, text-to-speech, and an integrated screen reader in Hindi and English.
The app will be monitored through a project monitoring unit (PMU) under DEPwD. The PMU will forward the complaints received through the app to the appropriate authorities across India. These include district magistrates, collectors for state government-owned buildings, or executive heads of Urban Local Bodies (ULB) for other buildings, including private spaces that fall under their jurisdiction.
Accessibility complaints related to central government premises or services will be forwarded to the nodal officers nominated for this purpose by the concerned ministries and departments. If the complaint is not addressed, the matter will be taken to the next highest authority.
An accessible government building is one where citizens with disabilities have no barrier in entering it and using all the facilities therein. This covers built environments such as steps and ramps, corridors, entry gates, emergency exits, and parking as well as indoor and outdoor facilities like lighting, signages, alarm systems, and toilets. Identifying accessible buildings requires annual accessibility audits that determine if a building meets a certain standard.
Further, accessible transportation plays a critical role in the growth of the economy and an inaccessible transportation system restricts mobility and denies freedom of movement and active participation for much of the population who need accessible transportation.
Access – The Photo Digest handbook is a collection of photographs from across different states and union territories. It is a tool and guide to sensitise stakeholders about ten basic features of accessibility and associated good-bad practices in an easy-to-understand pictorial form. An electronic version of the handbook will also be available on the app and the Department website.
A new Mobile Train Radio Communication (MTRC) system has been unveiled at the Divisional Railway Manager’s Office in Mumbai. The MTRC system is a technologically advanced communication system, which can help prevent train accidents and reduce delays by making communication effective. It facilitates instant and constant interaction between the train crew, the control centre, and the station master.
According to a press release, the system, which was first proposed in 2013, acts similarly to air traffic control (ARC) for aircraft. The system will monitor, track, and aid communication between all 100 trains and the control room, providing real-time updates and ensuring the smooth movement of rakes.
The tetra-based system will be operated from the central control room. It has a combination of cameras and microphones and can record digital data for up to 90 days. The system was commissioned for the Western Railway, which is one of the 18 zones under the Indian Railways and is among the busiest railway networks in the country.
The General Manager of Western Railway, Alok Kansal, explained that the system has been installed in 90 out of 100 rakes running between Churchgate and Virar. The 60-kilometre suburban section between the two is a high-density-traffic route where trains run with headway (at an interval) of approximately three minutes in peak hours. The section transports over 3.4 million passengers every day and operates over 1,300 services. The existing very high frequency (VHF)-based communication does not facilitate communication between the crew of the running train and operators in the control office.
MTRC is an integrated system with the ongoing train management system so that controllers can communicate with the driver and guards by using the train number or cab number code. In case of emergency, MTRC can make a broadcast call, the section controller can initiate the call to all guards and the same announcement can be extended to the passengers. The system is expected to be especially useful during monsoon when tracks get waterlogged and trains make an abrupt halt in the middle of the track. Even motormen can speak to other motormen for updates or to check the extent of technical failures.
With the system, rail authorities can provide information to commuters about whether there are technical problems like signal failures, OHE snapping, track failure, or a trespassing accident. MTRC uses the lowest time to connect calls, which is 300 milliseconds. The system can also track the location of trains through GPS and find out if a level crossing is open or closed. Information will be provided within ten minutes of an incident occurring. There are towers at Mahalaxmi, Borivali, Virar, Churchgate, Bandra, and Jogeshwari that supplement the system.
Western Railways is committed to providing the best of the services to the public, be it with the number of trains, quality of service, or safety of travellers. MTRC will enable passengers’ convenience and in case of an emergency, prompt communication through its advanced technology, Kansal stated. Deliberate efforts of the department have brought the number of accidental deaths and injured per day down from around 4.50 in 2019 to 1.30 in 2020.
Due to the disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the government of Singapore has adopted a new standard for protecting the verification of globally interoperable health documents based on tamper-proof distributed ledger blockchain technology.
The Singapore Government has published HealthCerts – a set of digital open standards for issuing digital COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates, in line with international standards and the Singapore Government’s requirements.
Beginning on the 10th March, travelers undergoing a pre-departure COVID-19 test at authorised clinics in Singapore would also receive their results in a digital certificate loaded into HealthCerts.
The blockchain framework used to digitally attest HealthCerts is powered by OpenAttestation, which is an open-source document notarisation framework that uses cryptographic hashes for independent verification. Once documents are issued and stored on the blockchain, they can be verified by any auditor making it possible for outside parties to trust the submission source.
The use of digital identity and other assets is overseen by the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group, a part of the Prime Minister’s Office, which oversees the deployment of this new technology. The digital certificate stores identity details (name, national identity number, DOB, etc.) and test details (type, status, date, medical institution details). The QR Code will be sent via email or presented under the SingPass Mobile app.
According to the HealthCerts webpage, for added assurance, Digital Certificates may be digitally notarised by the Government through Notarise to ease downstream verification by ensuring:
- Untampered content – Authenticate the veracity of the Digital Certificate against blockchain hash value
- Trusted provenance – Verify the legitimacy of Digital Certificate according to Singapore’s travel policy requirements and checks that the laboratory (or clinic) is authorised to issue Digital Certificates
- Rightful ownership – Strong identity assurance through SingPass to prevent impersonation
Verify provides an easy, reliable way to ensures digital certificates have not been tampered with and issued/ notarised by a recognised entity.
Supporting the opening of cross-border travel
To support the opening of cross-border travel, there is a need to verify travellers’ identities and their associated health status. Singapore has therefore designed HealthCerts with global interoperability in mind as an open standard. Entities can sign up to issue digital certificates compliant with the HealthCerts standard.
At the moment, AOKpass, Accredify. Collinson and Trybe.ID provide issuance service to clinics and labs such as Quest Laboratories, Gleneagles Hospital and Parkway Shenton Medical Group in Singapore and overseas countries.
As Verify is open-sourced, private companies or governments can develop their own versions of Verify, with their own list of recognised COVID labs or foreign authorities.
Private sector offerings: Affinidi provides document verification services for attesting document authenticity and validation to airlines and airports.
IATA conducts verification against the rules engine of other countries to determine if the test certificate meets the destination country requirements.
The government has said it is keen to work with partners to further the work in this space, which includes further enhancing interoperability, privacy, and verifiability for such certificates.
Grab is a Singaporean multinational ride-hailing company headquartered in Singapore. It is most famously known for its transportation services, but the company offers so much more including food delivery and digital payments services via a mobile app.
Grab has just recently signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) with Singapore Government agencies – Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Digital Industry Singapore (DISG) to support the development of Singapore’s tech ecosystem, by developing tech talent and R&D capabilities in Singapore.
The Memorandum will see Grab working with Singapore’s government agencies to grow its core product and engineering teams’ capabilities through the support of talent development programmes such as the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA).
“To secure our digital future, Singapore must be the place where companies choose to build unique digital products that cater for global markets. This is the only way that Singapore can sustainably capture value and differentiate ourselves in the Digital Economy. We are pleased to partner Grab, to strengthen Singapore’s tech ecosystem in these two key areas – to build our local talent in product development, and grow Singapore as the base for high-end R&D in tech,” said Lew Chuen Hong, Chief Executive, IMDA.
These programmes seek to enhance the deep technical skills of experienced professionals, and provide hands-on training opportunities for individuals looking for roles in the tech sector.
Grab seeking to hire in the fields of AI, Cybersecurity, Data Science and Software Engineering
“Despite the challenges brought forth by COVID-19, the tech industry continues to hold promise for new and renewed opportunities for talent. Grab will work closely with IMDA and DISG to grow the talent pool in Singapore, as the country advances towards a future-ready digital economy,” said Tan Hooi-Ling, Co-founder, Grab.
“As a Singapore-based tech company, Grab fully supports the development of the tech ecosystem here. We are building products that positively impact millions across Southeast Asia, and we want to continue deepening our R&D capabilities and push the boundaries of innovation, right here at our strategic base. This is only possible with the support of Grabbers across different business functions, who are continually learning and adapting to new technologies and customers’ requirements.”
Grab expects to create around 350 new jobs in Singapore this year, to support its growth plans and as part of its regional hiring efforts.
These include the expansion of products and services to support the digitalisation of micro-SMEs, the delivery of digital financial services across Southeast Asia, as well as the development of the upcoming digibank which will be managed by a Grab-Singtel consortium.
Some of these hires will come from fields including AI, Cybersecurity, Data Science, Software Engineering, as well as Product Management and Design. They would be involved in projects to improve merchants’ abilities to offer better and tailored products to their customers; as well as to improve the user experience of the merchant app, which will be an all-in-one solution featuring modularised Grab services to select from.
Many of them would also be powering Grab’s innovation engine that uses deep tech to build and enhance services for its users meaningfully; as well as building stronger integrations with local partners. Besides tech roles, Grab will be offering new employment opportunities in areas such as finance, operations, legal, public affairs and business development.
“We are excited that industry leaders like Grab are stepping up to deepen their R&D activities here while providing more job and skills development opportunities for Singaporeans. Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis that has impacted lives and livelihoods, but such partnerships position Singapore well to weather the storm and emerge stronger than before. Together, we will continue to build a vibrant and sustainable tech ecosystem to drive innovation and capture growth opportunities,” said Ang Chin Tah, Vice President and Head, DISG.
One thing that the pandemic has shown about payments is that speed, reliability and near-universal access have never been more important. For Singapore, the first wave of non-bank financial institutions (NFIs and Fintechs), are now connected to FAST, Singapore’s real-time payment rails.
Financial tech firms believe this move signifies the growth of the local fintech industry. By giving firms access to FAST, previously the exclusive domain of banks, regulators are enabling greater competition and innovation in the payments space. Aimed ultimately to the benefit of consumers, near-universal access has never been more important in a world powered by instantaneous digital interaction.
According to them, whether it is listening to music or taking an online class, consumers are benefitting from a better experience using tech — one that is becoming faster, cheaper, more convenient and most importantly, offers a variety of choice, no matter where you are.
In contrast, they also believe that the financial services industry has largely not kept pace; while fintechs have gradually begun to fill this void by offering a variety of services that were traditionally the domain of the incumbent banks.
For the consumer, on the other hand, the benefits of this seemingly obscure change to the payments plumbing may not seem obvious. But direct participation in FAST helps non-banks level the playing field with traditional banks, increases competition and allows fintechs to offer a better, cheaper and faster service in a digital world. Beyond this, fintechs gain better control over the entire customer experience when connected directly to the national payment system, rather than having this access through a bank.
Fintechs said that this move will also curtail delays, inefficiency and high fees. A recent report from The World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide showed that sending remittances costs an average of 6.75% of the amount sent — far higher than the United Nations’ goal to push this down to lower than 3%. More middlemen in the money movement process mean additional costs and delays resulting in a sub-optimal experience for the end consumer, especially for small businesses.
Financial tech firms are also looking forward to building more competitive products that make payments even faster and cheaper for citizens. They also added that for the fintech sector to thrive, policymakers need to manage risks while encouraging growth. Striking this balance between regulation and fintech innovation is not easy, especially with the rapid speed of technological change.
Accordingly, as reported by OpenGov Asia, The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) pushed the commencement of the Singapore Payment Services Act (PS Act). The new PS Act will enhance the regulatory framework for payment services in the country, strengthen consumer protection and promote confidence in the use of e-payments. The PS Act adopts an activity-based licencing framework in recognition of the different kinds of activities and new developments in payment services.
Just recently, as also reported by OpenGov Asia, Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the SG Digital Office (SDO) announced that 10,000 stallholders – more than half of Singapore’s stallholders – have adopted e-payments. 10,000 hawkers using e-payments, with transactions growing four times since June 2020. Transactions volume and value for January 2021 also crossed the 1.2 million and S$14 million mark respectively for the first time.
As one of the centres of innovation in the world, Singapore is well-placed to foster a more open and transparent payment ecosystem that benefits consumers. The country aims to lead the charge in encouraging constructive competition and closer collaboration in the sector.