Finally, people in Singapore are about to get an easier and quicker way to send money to a friend, via a mobile wallet app.
But surprisingly, it’s not coming from a bank or payment company — it’s coming from ride-hailing app, Grab.
Grab, Uber’s biggest competition in Southeast Asia, on Wednesday announced users will be able to transfer funds in the app’s wallet between users, without fees.
They can do it by sending money over to a mobile number registered with Grab, or by physically scanning a friend’s QR code.
The function is similar to what users have with China’s WeChat and Alipay wallets — arguably the world leaders in simple peer-to-peer fund transfers.
But it’ll lack one key thing that the Chinese apps have. Your money in the Grab wallet can’t be transferred out to a bank account.
That means whatever you have in there needs to be spent on rides or to be sent back to other friends.
1,000 street vendors are coming
By the end of the year though, Grab plans to announce a raft of 1,000 small merchants in Singapore that’ll be on board, allowing you to pay with a scan of their QR codes.
Now we’re talking. The biggest barriers to cashless adoption in cash-reliant Southeast Asia are infrastructure and bank fees.
To take a credit card, a street vendor would have to get a point-of-sale system that works with MasterCard or Visa, and pay fees of between 1 percent and 3 percent on each transaction.
Alipay and Wechat, on the other hand, revolutionised the Chinese market with the simple QR code scanner, and far lower fees of less than 1 percent.
Grab hasn’t announced its merchant fee structure yet. But if it’s acceptably low to the small retailer, it could really help unshackle users here from carrying cash around.
In Singapore, at least, the cashless options haven’t been quite as slick as what China has. Recently, the country’s banks jointly announced a way to pay friends from your mobile banking app.
That process requires a 2FA token or SMS code, and way too many taps, in comparison to what Grab is showing off right now.
For Grab, its headstart into the market with 1,000 merchants in Singapore (and presumably way more in the region) may well further entrench users in relying on the app, beyond calling for rides.
Grab already claims about 72 percent market share for private vehicle sharing, and 95 percent for taxis in Southeast Asia, where it’s in seven countries fighting Uber.
It also processes 1 billion payment transactions annually for rides, but it’s got to prepare to add merchants to that load soon.
So while the country continues to look for a way to go cashless, Grab’s already out of the gates. It’ll be interesting to see who’s next on its tail.