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GrabPay trains sight on govt efforts in e-payment collaboration

Singapore

GRABPAY is watching with close interest how Singapore will soon roll out e-payments at food establishments such as hawker centres and coffee shops, with the mobile wallet player eager to boost partnerships among financial players here, said a top executive at the firm.

In April, the government had called for solutions from financial players here to offer "micropayments" to the F&B operators, with government agencies looking to appoint no more than two master acquirers. A master acquirer refers to the financial firm that handles the payments transactions of merchants - in this case, hawkers, for a fee, so that the merchants will be able to accept e-payments.

Speaking to The Business Times in an exclusive interview, Ooi Huey Tyng, managing director of GrabPay in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, said the bidding invitation to financial firms - known in this case as a "call for collaboration" - would include a proposed final commercial fee that financial players here think would be acceptable to hawkers. To get that final fee, the proposal must also include the payment schemes that the acquirer intends to include in its consortium.

Payments schemes in the e-payment spaces would typically refer to mobile wallets. Besides GrabPay, there are bank-issued mobile wallets, as well as fintech-issued wallets such as FavePay and Liquid Pay.

These payment schemes would have to submit the rate they would charge for handling transactions of the merchant's paying customers.

BT understands that NETS - which is owned by the three local banks - has placed a bid for the project.

Even as efforts to offer a more seamless e-payments option to hawker centres and coffee shops - where most Singaporeans frequent to get their lunches and dinners - gather pace, it is the collaborative tone that is likely of greater significance.

This could mend the fragmentation that has plagued Singapore's cashless pursuit.

Authorities here are now insisting that e-payments options be interoperable. This means that regardless of which legitimate wallet function a consumer chooses to use, his or her payment should not be rejected by the merchant's acquiring institution. It also means all payments should be accepted on one payment system through what are known as unified point-of-sale terminals.

With GrabPay as the next growth engine for the ride-hailing firm, GrabPay is keen to work with existing incumbents in offering cashless options to consumers, said Ms Ooi. "Cash is a very stubborn habit. Players are recognising that we need to collaborate, rather than compete."

Ms Ooi's big focus on collaboration is why in May this year, GrabPay and Malaysia's Maybank announced a strategic partnership which would allow GrabPay mobile wallet users in Malaysia to make payments at Maybank's key merchants, thereby making GrabPay accepted at a wider network of merchants.

GrabPay merchants would soon also be able accept payments from Maybank's mobile wallet as well. GrabPay Malaysia has about 500 merchants, which is set to double in a couple of months, Ms Ooi added.

In Singapore, GrabPay is currently accepted by about 4,000 merchants, most of which are F&B establishments, said Ms Ooi. The merchant base is " growing rapidly", she added.

Given the breakneck speed at which Grab has evolved from a pure ride-hailing startup to a fintech firm, there remain questions over how Grab is responding to the heightened responsibilities that comes with its increasing scale.

Notably, as GrabPay has morphed into a platform player by providing rewards or working with other services through its Grab app, it may also be affected by reputational hits from service players. The prime example is oBike, the bike-sharing firm that went bust and still owes millions to users who had deposited money with the firm. In this case, since oBike worked with Grab under its GrabCycle function, Grab chose to refund all affected oBike customers, noted Ms Ooi.

"We're promoting trust... and we need to safeguard our reputation."

In the wake of the recent cyberattack on SingHealth - Singapore's worst so far - startups and large corporations alike would also have to raise their vigilance against cybercrime.

Tapping the six R&D centres it operates around the world, Grab pushes out some 100 app updates in a week - speaking to the pace at which the startup is tweaking its products.

As it is, Grab is already running out of space at its four main locations, including its new Marina One office. Ms Ooi said her team is expanding quickly in tandem with the rest of the firm. In recent times, Ms Ooi has hired OCBC's former head of strategic partnership Gary Wong, to lead GrabPay Singapore.

Ms Ooi said on the fintech front, the startup remains "very engaged" with the regulator, and has a team of risk and fraud staff to ensure hygiene standards. "We are a big, established fintech. When it comes to regulation, we don't break it," she said.

That being said, Grab is still contesting a regulator's decision that its takeover of Uber's business in the region had hurt competition. The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCS) provisionally found that the move had substantially reduced competition. CCS suggested among other things that Grab remove exclusivity rules on drivers who are on its platform.

In late July, Grab argued that the commission has permitted other players to make exclusivity arrangements with drivers, private hire rental fleet and taxi operators without restrictions. It called the CCS' move a "double standard". Ms Ooi was unable to comment on the CCS processes.

On her journey with Grab in the six months she's been there after leaving a top corporate post as head of Visa Singapore, Ms Ooi said speed comes with working for one of the fastest-growing companies here. And she did sign up for it.

"One year in Grab would feel like seven years. While I stay focused, I also have to stay open and resilient. I had joined Grab (because) it's growing so fast. It keeps me awake as I continue to learn and re-learn," she said.

"It's not for the faint-hearted.

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