Octopus looks to arm itself with online option

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2008, 12:00am

New ways to top up electronic payment card investigated

Unable to guarantee the reliability of its EPS machines, the provider of Octopus cards is looking at new ways of adding value conveniently to the 16 million cards in circulation, including an online option.

Card owners will also be able to check their cards' past 10 transaction records at home soon, with a card reader, and an internet phone already on the market.

The measures by Octopus Cards are part of a remedial package begun after a series of blunders uncovered since last February in which HK$3.7 million was wrongly deducted in 15,270 faulty EPS add-value transactions in the six years to 2006.

But they are also part of an effort by the electronic payments firm to improve the cards' chances in a more competitive market both locally and across the border.

Octopus Holdings chief executive Prudence Chan Bik-wah said the company had learnt from its mistake. 'We have launched new programmes to ensure the money flow is in valid control, and we constantly update the merchants about upgrades in our system.'

To compensate for the loss of the EPS add-value function the company is looking into technologies that enable people to do that on the internet.

'We will establish more channels for the cards' value-adding functions when technology becomes more mature, so that people can do it at home, or in the office,' Ms Chan said. '[The incident] has made us put a lot more focus on customer service.'

Octopus is also in the final stages of issuing a card reader that can reveal the card's last 10 transactions through a PCCW internet phone. In time, the card may also allow the details to be uploaded onto computers.

Cards of different styles and functions have hit the market in recent years as electronic money became a more popular form of payment. A credit card issued last month even copied Octopus' card-reading method.

'There are so many cards these days, people just won't bother to get them all for the few dollars' discount that each offers. One card with multi functions, that's where the advantage lies,' Ms Chan said.

'Our prior concern is how to replace cash. As long as there is still cash, we will have a market to grow.'

The city's most popular smart card has recently attracted 1,000 new partners - mostly retail chains and Chinese cafes, or cha chan tan, on top of its list of 5,000.

However, no breakthrough was seen in year-long negotiations with the Shenzhen authorities over the cards' use on the Shenzhen Metro.

'The railway system already had its own set of smart cards. Although ideally it is feasible for two cards to share a common payment platform, there are a lot of technical, commercial and security issues we need to resolve,' Ms Chan said.