How I travel for business in APAC without any cash or plastic – #MissionCashless Singapore

Welcome to #MissionCashless Singapore, part of Conferma Pay`s insight series where we explore the cashless readiness of top business travel destinations around the world.

Imagine a place where you did not have to do any admin… your payments are seamlessly approved and happen automatically. Any coffee is a device tap away. No receipts, no plastic or cash to hold or worry about, no expense reports to do….

Cashless, seamless, and effortless in your day-to-day activities.

Last week Citi bank held its annual corporate client event at the little red dot and fintech hotspot of APAC – Singapore. Conferma Pay was invited as a prominent fintech partner to reveal what`s in store in the realms of virtual payment for T&E.

This gave me an excuse to share our innovations team research insights and open up the discussion around what is the place of mobile technology for business travel payment in APAC.

I moved to Singapore just over 18 months ago. Previously my journey had started in Sydney where I spent three years working with global brands, corporate payment providers and TMCs, helping them bridge the gaps that consumer payment had left in the realms of corporate settlement programmes for T&E.

APAC has unrivalled pedigree in cashless. The rate of adoption is faster than anywhere else. Each market in the region has an impressive fintech innovation story, in this post I`ll share some of the most prevalent to set the scene. I`ll then zoom into Singapore specifically and move on to evaluate how relevant those trends are in the corporate space with a business travel flavour. 


The Singapore government is aiming to make the city – state a cashless society by 2025 – “Cash is no longer king” as described by Ong Ye Kung, board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Ong also shares that in this brewing cashless environment, more than eight in ten Singapore consumers have adopted e-payments. Similarly, almost three in five Singapore merchants are now accepting e-payments.

Pay Now launched in the city-state in the summer of 2017, allowing users to perform online transactions via their mobile phones without disclosing banking details. It now has around 1.4 million registrations and transaction volume of over $900 million (SMU 2018).

In Australia, contactless now accounts for two-thirds of credit and debit card point-of-sales payments. Contactless payments are also the predominant way to pay in New Zealand with 73% of Kiwis using Tap & Go, according to Mastercard research.

The reality of a cashless society is approaching fast in Indonesia as well, where digital payments technologies are taking off with the likes of Dana, Go-Pay and Ovo. Last year OVO processed over $3.4BN and the providers claims acceptance by over 800,000 merchants throughout the country (Jakarta Globe 2019).

The Indian government set-up the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). The platform allows consumers to use a single smartphone application to make payments through any bank that joins, including non-traditional financial institutions such as Indian digital wallet provider Paytm. Since launching in April 2016, UPI has signed up 97 banks and has processed INR270 billion (S$5.4 billion) worth of transactions (Business Times Singapore 2018).

The trends in China are incredibly impressive and grow at scale and speed that financial technology has never seen before. The country made $16.7 trillion in mobile payment transactions in 2017, with QR codes linked to mobile wallets, now the norm on the high street. Mobile payment businesses have evolved out of the major social media and e-commerce companies and are now a significant part of the financial system (SMU 2018).

I can go on…What is clear is that governments and technology innovators throughout APAC are working hand it hand towards a unified goal of eliminating the use of cheque and reducing cash in the region. They have been quicker than other places in the world to recognise the need to support and advance new ways of paying, and in response are creating cutting-edge solutions to meet growing demand.

While the types and methods of cashless payments vary widely market by market with QR codes, near-field technology, and pre-paid cards all gaining traction – one behavioral trend remains clear. Consumers are now choosing where to shop based on the payment options businesses provide. They get frustrated when retailers have not turned on the contactless functionality on their terminals and the story is no different for business travelers.

Digital wallets that allow users to pay for goods and services directly from the consumers mobile have tended to dominate the discussion of cashless payments in Asia. It is clear that using electronic money in daily transactions for transportation, fast food delivery and shopping is increasingly becoming the preferred way to pay. I must admit that throughout the entire time I have been living in Singapore, I think I only ever used cash a few times at the hawker centers. That`s it. And you should not be surprised that Nets is on a mission to change that as of this summer. The rolled-out solution unifies payments from 23 providers, allowing customers to use different cashless payment options at a single payment terminal at any of the food outlets. Over 500 stalls are now enabled for unified e-payment, out of the 12,000 such stalls across Singapore. 


All and all as a consumer in Singapore you can get around using contactless in pretty much any situation.

So how do things work for those travelling on business? How can we replicate this experience for corporations and their employees? Which corporate payment method can marry the requirements for compliance, security and control and offer convenience and ease of use?

At the moment, the combination of virtual payment and mobile contactless technology offers the best way of delivering the same seamless experience with additional layers of controls and security suited to business requirements. Last summer we rolled out the Conferma Pay App. The technology added a virtual card into a mobile wallet pioneering the cashless use of Apple Pay and Google Pay for business purchases.

Companies are now able to bring pre-authorisation detail, real time point of sale data and all parts of a single trip in one single place – your phone that feeds into a centralised expense record, all this in chronological order of spend (taking into consideration a mix of time zone averages, yes!). The receipts are in the bin, you are no longer out of pocket, and in a very subtle way – finance has full control and visibility. It`s been a mind-blowing journey to get to this point but it`s now a reality. I will be sharing more around how I have used the app for settling all my in-app Grab expense for my relocation in a separate post – watch this space. Back to where I began – last week our Chief Innovations Offices, Stuart Davenport, currently based at Conferma Pay HQ – Manchester, flew to Singapore to attend the annual Citi corporate client event with me. At the event, many of Citi`s top clients outlined the requirement for translating virtual cards (typically used for hotel and air) into their employee`s mobile phones. 


It`s time to capture incidental spend. The spend on the go that makes it back to the lengthy expense report process at the office. Many clients shared that a lot of their pain points are around securing settlement for their relocation programmes, as well for those employees who are not issued corporate cards and spend out of pocket. One global travel manager in particular shared: “I have a dream – I want to see all our spend centrally paid and automatically reconciled.” Corporate clients want the holy grail of the total trip cost, and they want it now.

To give you an insight how 2020 can address those pain points, let me share Stuart`s week-long experience as a use case and let you into the future of business travel payment that we are experiencing as a company using the solution today. Let`s start with the receipts joy. The app prompts you to snap a photo of receipts as you go and then you are free to bin them while finance has a full view of your spend.  


Stuart actually kept all of his receipts just to make a point. 


You get the idea…

Second but probably most exciting – all of Stuart`s spend is arranged in one place. Flights, hotel booking, on the go spend, a couple of demo cards we used throughout the week, all this activity is associated with one trip, all in one place, all laid in chronological order. Ladies and gentlemen – the true trip cost right in front of you:


Last but not least, contactless acceptance in Singapore is phenomenal. You can see all transactions ranging from a S$7 americano purchase at a local coffee shop to a client entertainment bill worth S$320 dollars and everything in between. 



About Conferma Pay

Conferma Pay is a global financial technology company. We design and integrate virtual payment systems that provides a more efficient, seamless and secure way to pay for for businesses.

Travel Meets Payment

Conferma Pay was born in Manchester in 2005. Since then we have connected over 700 TMCs, and directly integrate with all the major GDSs and OBTs. Our roots lie in corporate travel payment integration.

We enable our payment providers to flow virtual cards into the preferred purchasing process of any business travel buyer. Crucial to this is our network of banking partners, who have issued virtual cards in over 200 countries, in 40 currencies with over 45 commercial banking partners via all major card networks.

Our ecosystem continues to expand to meet the growing requirements of our global customer base.

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