Home to 5.9 million people, Singapore is the top financial and business hub in Southeast Asia, with a GDP of over US$396 billion. The world’s second most digitally competitive country in 2019, Singapore’s population is tech-savvy and quick to embrace technological advancements such as digital payments.
Combined with extensive governmental efforts to transform Singapore into a digital-first country, it is unsurprising that digital payments are commonplace in Singapore. According to Statista, the total transaction value of digital payments in Singapore will reach US$17.17 billion in 2022, with an annual growth rate of 19.99% until 2027.
In this article, we will explore the most popular payment methods in Singapore, summarised as follows:
Singapore boasts Southeast Asia’s highest card penetration rate at 1.73 debit cards and 1.61 credit cards per capita. The ready usage of cards for payments can be attributed mainly to Singapore’s highly banked population, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) estimating that over 98% of adult Singapore residents have bank accounts.
Credit cards are especially popular amongst Singaporeans because they are convenient, build credit scores, earn points for rewards programmes, and even accumulate cashback and discounts. In fact, 73% of Singaporeans own at least one credit card, with 10% owning six or more.
Although credit cards often offer notable benefits over debit cards, debit cards are still widely used by Singaporeans who are wary of incurring credit debts or extra costs that can potentially result from credit card usage.
In Singapore, near-field communication (NFC) functionality provided by Visa payWave and Mastercard contactless augments credit and debit cards to enable consumers to make contactless payments.
With thousands of merchants accepting NFC-enabled contactless card payments across the country, Singaporeans are further motivated to pay with their cards.
Add to that the availability of mobile wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. These wallets allow users to add their cards and use their smartphones to make contactless payments.
The impact that contactless functionality has on card usage is massive. In 2021, Visa’s Consumer Payment Attitudes Study found that contactless card payments were Singaporeans' most preferred payment method (31%).
COVID-19 played an enormous role in driving this preference, with Visa Country Manager for Singapore and Brunei Kunal Chatterjee noting that “the stickiness of new digital payment habits formed during the pandemic cannot be underestimated.”
According to a contactless payments survey done in 2020, nine in 10 Singaporeans said that “contactless is the cleaner way to pay”, prompting many to go contactless due to safety reasons.
Even after the pandemic, Singaporeans continue to prefer contactless methods to pay. Visa’s Consumer Payment Attitudes Study 2022 found that more than nine in ten Visa transactions are contactless payments - this is one of the highest contactless payment penetration figures in the world.
Some reasons cited for this preference include greater speed and efficiency, convenience, and ease of tracking financial records. Singaporeans generally prefer contactless payments for public transport, as they appreciate the speed of the payments and the convenience from not having to top up their stored-value travel cards.
Consumers and businesses do bank transfers in Singapore primarily through PayNow, a real-time payment system that allows them to make inter-bank fund transfers across ten participating banks and four participating Non-Bank Financial Institutions (NFIs) in Singapore. These include:
Provided free of charge, PayNow is very popular in Singapore. Individual registrations for PayNow increased by 1.6 million in 2020, while business registrations doubled to about 240,000 - this means that at least 80% of residents and businesses are on PayNow.
PayNow has also facilitated a major uptick in real-time payments in Singapore. In 2020, total real-time transactions reached 138.38 million, a 48% increase from 93.24 million in 2019. In the same period, the value of real-time transactions surged 40% to reach US$154 billion.
In 2018, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) launched the Singapore Quick Response Code (SGQR). SGQR ties multiple payment QR codes from 27 payment schemes under a single SGQR label, allowing consumers and merchants to make quicker and easier payments via QR code.
Under SGQR, all consumers need to do is scan the SGQR label at any participating merchant and select their preferred payment scheme to complete the transaction. Currently, SGQR is widely accepted across Singapore at over 160,000 merchant points.
According to a survey by Statista in 2021, QR code payments are well received in Singapore, with at least 36% of respondents stating that they had used this payment method.
Digital wallets have gained significant traction in Singapore, climbing from 30.4% in 2020 to a projected 94.7% by 2025.
According to an IDC report commissioned by 2C2P, the mobile wallet user base reached 1.5 million in 2020. Mobile wallet usage will only continue to grow in the years to come, with the user base expected to reach 3.2 million by 2025.
Below are the top digital wallets used in Singapore:
Of these wallets, EZ-Link is notable for having started out as a contactless stored-value card used for public transit, not unlike Hong Kong’s Octopus card. It has since evolved to include a digital wallet accessed via a dedicated smartphone app.
Although Singapore has seen a steady decline in overall cash usage, cash has not entirely phased out. In 2020, Singaporeans made 37% of in-store purchases in cash for small day-to-day purchases at physical shops.
To further illustrate, although almost half of all 18,000 Singaporean hawkers (itinerant and semi-permanent food merchants) accept cashless payments, there are still many older hawkers who only accept cash.
Consumers will continue to use cash in Singapore. Although its usage is no longer widespread, it is still helpful for purchases of smaller transaction values.
The global popularity of BNPL has also reached Singapore’s shores. Given that the digital-savvy island nation was quick to adopt digital payments, it is little wonder that Singaporeans similarly embraced BNPL.
According to MAS, BNPL transactions in 2021 amounted to around $440 million. Although this accounted for less than 0.5% of the $103 billion in credit and debit card payments, BNPL usage will only continue to grow well into the future. Estimates by ResearchAndMarkets indicate that BNPL payment adoption will grow at a CAGR of 25.5% between 2022 and 2028.
The interest-free, no-frills-attached nature of BNPL appeals to Singaporean millennials, who tend to be risk-averse in spending due to the repeated market volatilities they underwent during their formative years.
Seen as a “safer” alternative to credit-based Instalment Payment Plans (IPP), BNPL has thus been widely used by Singaporeans. KR-Asia notes that approximately 48% of BNPL purchases were for smaller purchases that cost SGD 100 or less.
Key BNPL players in Singapore include ShopBack Pay Later (formerly hoolah), Atome, and Pace.
Singapore’s efforts to be digital-first have had a tremendous impact on its payments landscape. Many Singaporeans are receptive to the breadth of available digital payment methods, especially those that allow them to complete transactions contactless.
Looking to the future, digital payments will only continue to gain traction in Singapore. As the landscape continues to evolve rapidly, we can expect Singaporeans to get fully onboard with any developments.
2C2P is a full-suite payments platform helping businesses securely accept payments across online, mobile and offline channels, as well as providing issuing, payout, remittance and digital goods services.
With over 250 payment options ranging from credit cards to mobile wallets and an alternative payments network of more than 400,000 physical locations, 2C2P is the preferred payments platform of tech giants, airlines, online marketplaces, retailers and other global enterprises.
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