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1.2 million first-generation Octopus cards to expire by 2019, as they are not compatible with smartphone app

From Wednesday, users who hear three beeps instead of one can exchange old cards on the spot at MTR stations or 50 self-service kiosks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 7:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 10:54pm

About 1.2 million Octopus cards issued two decades ago will expire in two years, as the operator of the cashless payment system presses ahead with efforts to secure a larger foothold in Hong Kong’s competitive e-wallet market.

These “first-generation” cards cannot be linked to Octopus’ Android smartphone app, O! ePay, which allows users to check their card balance, top up their card or make online payments.

Why Hong Kong going cashless is no small change

From Wednesday, cardholders who hear three beeps instead of one when they use their cards must get a replacement within the next three months.

Users can also check the string of numbers on the back of the cards. If the last digit does not have a bracket around it, a replacement is needed.

They can make this exchange for free and on the spot at any MTR customer service centre, or at 50 self-service kiosks that will be set up at various locations across Hong Kong. However, those who want personalised Octopus cards – with their name or photo printed on the back – will have to wait three to four weeks for their new card.

On Tuesday, the CEO of Octopus Cards Limited Sunny Cheung Yiu-tong said that the replacement exercise for the 1.2 million cards would be conducted in batches, beginning with a “few thousand” cards.

Users who did not replace their cards in time could still get a refund on the stored value of the card “anytime”, Cheung said.

The operator’s decision to set an expiry date for the old cards comes after it collected only 800,000 out of 2 million first-generation cards in the last two years. It started its replacement exercise in August 2015 without a “set date to make the cards obsolete”.

But competition in the city’s online payment services has intensified and there are now over 13 licensed providers. The Octopus operator has been trying to maintain its dominance, given that it was a pioneer of cashless payment systems in the city, with such cards introduced in 1997.

Octopus’ Hong Kong market dominance faces challenge from e-payment newcomers

When he launched an update to the O! epay app in November last year, Cheung said that he hoped that Octopus mobile payment accounts would one day match the over 30 million physical cards in circulation in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday, Cheung said that there were no security loopholes in the current cards, but “preventive measures” had to be taken to keep up with technological advancements.

Octopus Cards’ technical director Sammy Kam Chi-sum said that with the new cards, the company could introduce new features, such as support for near-field communications technology, which allows users to make payments with mobile devices linked to their cards.

Asked if users could keep their first-generation cards for sentimental reasons, Cheung said it was up to them as the replacement exercise was voluntary. He said the company was working to integrate its payment service with Samsung smartphones through the Samsung Pay gateway, but currently had no plans to do the same for Apple iPhones.