Going cashless at a snail’s pace

  • One Man's Meat
  • Saturday, 26 Jan 2019

Malaysians through force of habit are still very reliant on cash, which is why the adoption of e-payments here is rather slow. 

THE other day in a shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, I discovered a revolutionary wallet that reflects I use less cash.

Secrid is an ultra-thin wallet with an eject button that makes credit and debit cards slide out from its aluminium body.

“The content of wallets has undergone revolutionary changes,” noted secrid.com. “For centuries, cash served as the primary method of payment. The arrival of high-tech cards caused a rapid replacement of these traditional means.”

Nowadays, I mostly use my cards and e-wallet (via my smartphone) to pay for my purchases. There are days I’ve spent money without using cash.

Take Saturday, for example. Why drive out for lunch when you can get food delivered to you, I thought?

So, for the family’s lunch, I bought Tangkak beef noodles from a restaurant in Puchong, Selangor, via GrabFood. I paid with my credit card that’s linked to my food delivery app account.

When the delivery guy arrived, I checked my pocket for money. I only had about RM2, and I tipped him with this.

I also used my credit card to pay for dinner with my family, niece and nephew at a restaurant in a mall in Subang Jaya, Selangor. I had no cash in my pocket as I had given all the money I had to the delivery guy.

After dinner, we went shopping for groceries in a supermarket in the mall.

“Pin or wave, sir?” the cashier asked.

“Wave,” I said, referring to the contactless payment system using a credit card.

When I exited the mall, I used Touch ’N Go to pay for parking.

At home, I developed a craving for durian and WhatsApp-ed an order for udang merah to my favourite durian seller David, who has a stall at USJ14 in Subang Jaya.

It was drizzling and I was not in the mood to drive, so I asked David to deliver the durian to me via Grab.

I paid for the king of fruits using DuitNow, a service where you can transfer money instantly to the recipient’s phone number. Instantly, David acknowledged that he had received my payment.

That night, I purchased flights for a trip to the Philippines. I booked online and paid with a credit card.

According to a Visa Consumer Payment Attitude Survey conducted among its customers in South-East Asia, which was released in May 2018, 61% of the Malaysian respondents said they were able to go cashless for a day.

And 42% said they were confident about surviving for three days without using cash.

From various reports that I’ve read, it looks like Malaysia has a long way to go in becoming a cashless society.

It will take about 20 years, according to Payments Network Malaysia Sdn Bhd (PayNet) Group CEO Peter Schiesser, as Malaysians through force of habit are still very reliant on cash.

Consumers are too comfortable paying for goods and services with physical money, he said, adding that this is the reason behind the relatively slow adoption of e-payments here.

I’ve got an anecdote on this.

I had dinner at a mom-and-pop restaurant in Subang Jaya. When the bill came, I asked the 50-something owner whether I could make an e-payment.

“I don’t have,” she said.

“Why don’t you get one?” I asked.

“We don’t know how to use it,” she replied.

“But that’s the future,” I said.

“Probably by that time, we would have retired as we are finding it hard to hire people to work for us,” she said.

The Star reported that cashless payments make up a relatively small portion of total payments in Malaysia at about 20%, with only half of that comprising e-wallet transactions.

In my case, it’s not that I don’t want to use e-wallet. The problem is there are too many e-wallet players in the market.

My favourite kopitiam in Subang Jaya has Fave, Boost and AliPay.

“Do you have GrabPay?” I asked.

“I’m going to get GrabPay soon,” the owner said.

As GrabPay is the only e-wallet I have, I had to pay with cash there.

I wish for just one or two dominant e-wallet players, or one e-wallet to rule them all.

I find using e-wallet addictive and it is quite clever in making me literally cashless.

It has reward points for the goods or services I desire. For example, for 4,500 points, I can get a 300 baht (RM39) voucher for a massage. (I’m writing this article in Bangkok, and when I opened my e-wallet, it showed GrabRewards for Thailand.)

In order to get the points, I happily use GrabPay. That’s also the reason I only want one e-wallet to rule all, as I don’t want my reward points to be split into other accounts.

Cash is dirty. It is one of the main carriers of diseases in the world.

But cash is still king in our country.

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