The Evolution of the Payments Landscape in South East Asia

The whole payments sector is experiencing an unprecedented rate of change, bringing considerable flux and undermining traditional models. The Asian region is not immune to these disruptive changes, over the past few months I’ve observed many interesting developments within the region.

QR Code Payments


Notably, in Thailand there is a concerted push from players like MasterCard, VISA and UnionPay in QR standardisation in support of the Bank of Thailands aspirations towards a cashless society. The standardisation is intended to be adopted across the payments value chain from the banks all the way to the merchants. While this is an initiative that is praised by many industry observers, there are also those who lie within the doubtful camp.

The skepticism arrives on the back of Singapore’s recent lackluster pilot experiment launched in November enabling QR payments in a space that is quintessentially Singaporean; hawker stalls. Local news report within Singapore has indicated that there’s a lack of awareness from the average joe on the street.

Contrasting starkly with Singapore’s pilot experiment, QR payments within China is near ubiquitous. One could speculate that this is largely due to the fact that China leap-frogged plastic or that there’s no equivalent of applications like WeChat which was allowed to flourish under China’s controlled economic environment.


NFC Payments


Source: Vodafone Medien

While NFC payments is a far cry from a new technology, conversations about a cashless society powered by NFC has been ongoing for a while especially within the South East Asian region. For the longest time, despite the hype that surrounds NFC, it has seen very little success within the South East Asian in the past.

However recent developments have revived hopes for NFC-enabled payment systems. Bank Negara Malaysia recently mandated the change of debit cards and credit cards to be NFC enabled. Gradually, there is a visible increase in the number of merchants with NFC terminals. This trend is further driven by the emergence of mobile wallets within Asia.


Mobile Wallet


Source: Samsung

The proliferation of contactless payment systems as mentioned above has certainly done much to support the growth of mobile wallets and vice versa. It is observed that most of the initiatives in the region within the mobile wallet space are carried out by telcos, with like of Samsung throwing its hat in the ring with regional partnerships with incumbent banks like Maybank, CIMB, DBS, Standard Chartered Bank, UOB.

Whereas telco operators like G-Cash, Telkomsel are one of the dominant players within the mobile wallets space within countries like Philippines and Indonesia respectively. The banks too are not sitting idly by in recent months we’ve observed the launch of DBS Paylah, Maybank Pay, CIMB Pay, Vardhana Wallet (DFCC, Sri Lanka) and many others.

The question now remains with all these developments taken into consideration what does the future hold for the payments landscape in Asian countries? To draw inspiration on developments on other countries I ran through the Payment Systems & Supplier Report by IBS.

I would have attempted to share some of the findings here but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it any justice. So I’ve reached out to my friend Abhijit in IBS to request for discounted rates for the report and he has graciously agreed to provide 10% of discount to customers and readers of BankTech Asia.

Please visit the link below if you’re interested:


About the Author

Vincent Fong is the General Manager of Knowledge Group and a self-proclaimed pundit of banking technology and fintech

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