Please leave your wallet at home

We still play catch-up to the likes of China, but more Malaysians are starting to forgo cash for e-wallets. 

IMAGINE going more than a year without carrying cash on your person. No money at all, just your smartphone and credit cards.

Khairil Abdullah, the CEO of Axiata Digital Services/Boost did just that, embracing the cashless lifestyle during Chinese New Year in 2018. He hasn’t looked back since.

While many of us would balk at the thought of stepping out of the house without any cash in the wallet, Khairil believes that e-wallets (a type of electronic card which is used for transactions made online through a smartphone) is the way of the future.

And he knows what he’s taking about because his job is to ensure more and more Malaysians embrace the cashless ecosystem.

Boost is the largest and most widespread e-wallet in Malaysia. As of end of June, there were 4.4 million users and more than 90,000 merchants accept the app for transactions.

If you’re reading this and wondering what on earth I’m going on about, don’t fret. As a Gen X-er myself, I could not envisage leaving my physical wallet at home. But for the purpose of writing this column, I downloaded the Boost app and decided to spend a half day out and about without cash. The results, for me, were quite surprising.

My e-wallet was used to pump petrol at Shell, pay for on-street parking in Bangsar, breakfast at a banana leaf restaurant, shopping at Watsons, lunch at Nando’s and even a peer-to-peer (P2P) transfer from my two lunch buddies to cover their cost. I was given cashback for every transaction. And I used this to donate to a charity of my choice on the e-donation tab on my app.

The cashless revolution seems inexorable. A total of 25 million mobile payment transactions worth RM725mil were recorded in the first quarter of this year in Malaysia.

Bank Negara already approved 49 non-banking companies to provide digital electronic money (e-money), with 39 providing such services via an e-wallet, while 10 do it via cards or online accounts.

“We want it to become a trend among the people. We no longer have to carry a physical wallet full of cash, but use an e-wallet for our future transactions,” Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Amiruddin Hamzah was reported to have said, adding that the government was moving towards a cashless society and pushing the public to adopt the move as it has proven to be safer than using cash.

Safer than cash? That is the crux of the problem. Sure, you don’t have to go to the ATM in the middle of the night to withdraw cash and risk being mugged. And it totally eliminates counterfeit currencies, but while the Millennials have embraced e-wallets wholeheartedly, the older generation are still hesitant. The biggest issue is security. Are e-wallets safe from hacking?

Risk and security issues are being highlighted more than ever and the prevalence of people getting duped through online scams is growing, while cybersecurity threats continue to lurk on the horizon. In order for mobile payments to succeed, concerns regarding privacy and security must be addressed.

To be fair, the main e-wallet players have already introduced a number of security measures. TNG Digital Sdn Bhd is so confident of their Touch ‘n Go e-wallet security features that they recently announ­ced a money-back guarantee policy.

Through this policy, e-wallet users can report any unauthorised transaction and request for compen­sation by logging on to the e-wallet app or via the TNG Digital website.

As for Boost, the app offers additional security features such as a fingerprint scan for Android users and Face ID for iOS users to authorise and perform transactions as an alternative to keying in a PIN code.

Security is not a concern for an entrepreneur friend of mine. She has been using multiple e-wallets for almost a year now and just returned from China.

“China is the global hub for mobile payment. Cashless transactions are the norm there. I would say 90% of Chinese businesses and consumers use e-wallets whereas the opposite is true here,” she told me.

“I have three e-wallets downloaded with two being used almost every day. I see e-wallets as a substitute of my physical wallet and it has truly simplified my daily transactions and lifestyle needs. I find value in using e-wallets in three ways – for my personal safety, for the convenience and efficiency and for the rewards,” she said.

Surprisingly, Sabah and Sarawak have adopted mobile payment a lot quicker than states in the peninsula. Numbers indicate a 60% average weekly usage in Sabah and Sarawak. These are impressive figures, but for industry players, the focus on the next level of adoption would involve smaller merchants to help them take advantage of the cashless ecosystem.

Even though Malaysia has a long way to go before it can come even close to the likes of China’s adoption of mobile payment, Khairil believes that 50% of all cash transactions could be replaced by e-wallets in the next three years provided there are balanced regulatory policies in place as well as an open e-wallet landscape.

Personally, he does not regret his decision to go cashless.

“I’ve only been caught out once. It happened three months ago in a carpark. The machine did not accept anything other than cash. I was forced to call my wife to bail me out,” he said with a laugh.

The writer is likely to embrace e-wallets but he would probably continue carrying a wallet. You know, just in case.

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