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On e-payment, Hong Kong must catch up with rest of the world

The mainland has moved rapidly towards a cashless society, as have other places in Asia and the world, yet we are stuck with the Octopus card

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 2:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 6:45am

Urbanised centres across the mainland have gone cashless. Hong Kong is still talking about getting there. This is one of many hi-tech areas and high value-added supply chains where the city is being left behind.

Consider this. Mainland news media have reported that beggars in Beijing and Jinan, in Shandong, have been using printouts of QR codes to enable people to donate money via such payment apps as Alipay and WeChat Wallet. Even beggars are using e-payment!

Mainland businesses large and small have been quick to embrace the mobile internet. Chinese urbanites don’t carry much cash around these days. Instead, they pay for everything with apps on their smartphones. Vegetable sellers in wet markets have electronic payment readers. That should give some idea why BAT, the trio of internet giants – Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent – were all founded on the mainland and not in Hong Kong.

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When the Octopus card was introduced in Hong Kong 20 years ago, it was a world-beating payment platform. But it has only recently enabled so-called p2p, or person to person payment.

According to a survey of six Asian cities on e-payments, eight out of 10 Hong Kong people think we are lagging behind.

The study by an affiliated branch of the Junior Chamber International Hong Kong ranked the prevalence of e-payments on a scale from one to 10. Singaporeans gave the highest score (7.5), followed by Zhongshan (6.9), Hong Kong (6.4), Taiwan (6.4), Macau (6.3) and finally Japan (5.8).

The case of Japan is perhaps not so surprising because this hi-tech powerhouse is quaint in many ways – many Japanese and companies in the country still prefer to use faxes to send each other documents.

Singapore has long had what is called the “Contactless e-Purse Application Standard”, which allows different debit or stored value cards to be used on the same e-reader.

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The Internet Professional Association has suggested we follow Singapore’s example. People prefer a single-payment platform for convenience. Why not just use a single standard for scanning, say, Electronic Payment Services, Autotoll and Octopus cards? Why not put all those payment methods or apps on your smartphone, and/or bank-issued ATM debit card and credit card?

With a relatively low-cost investment, at least compared to its many mega-infrastructure projects, the government could pay for the development of hardware for easy electronic transactions that would directly benefit consumers and promote businesses.