There's one particular country that's been creating a lot of attention in the mobile payments ecosystem in the past week.
It's a country with an estimated population of just 5.47 million, a GDP per capita of $56,284, an unemployment rate of 3 percent and an adult literacy rate of about 96.54 percent.
While those facts may seem a bit random for this edition of the mobile payments tracker, they do, in fact, matter. And here's why. Because it paints a picture of the demographics of the latest country that's caught the eye of the mobile payment players competing for consumer attention. It begins to give some context as to why they are eyeing this particular country that's only 277.6 square miles.
But why specifically has Singapore become all the rage for three major mobile payments players?
The attitude toward NFC and contactless payments, and Singapore's well-developed contactless ecosystem.
According to Visa, a third of all credit card/debit card transactions in Singapore retail stores are made with contactless cards. While the goal of Apple, Samsung or Google is all about getting consumers to pay via a phone (or watch), the fact that consumers are getting familiar with the tap and pay at the POS habit — and that it’s increasingly available at the places they like to shop — is what these players hope is an important first step toward mobile payments the NFC way.
And unlike the U.K., where contactless is popular but still bound by a limit of roughly $30, contactless transactions in Singapore can be made for up to $72. One bank, UOB, has lifted that cap for any retailer that uses that bank's payment processing. The decision to lift the limit was announced last week as a way to spur more mobile and contactless transactions.
“The limit has been removed at 2,000 of its 10,000 terminals so far,” UOB said in a statement. “With the removal of the limit, mobile contactless payments made at UOB terminals through Apple Pay or UOB Mighty Pay for Android phones will have no limit other than the customer’s own credit or debit card limit.”
It's likely no coincidence that this announcement coincided with Apple, Google and Samsung's newfound interest in making their payments method available to the good people of Singapore.
Another important fact, as alluded to above, to this story is that Singapore is a fairly wealthy country (with its GDP per capita putting it at the top 10th percentile in the world). So they not only have contactless cards — and places to use them — but they also have money to spend.
Singapore also has a heavily concentrated smartphone population. In fact, according to most estimates, Singapore has the highest smartphone per capita in the world with more than 100 percent smartphone market penetration. It's estimated there are 147 cellphone subscriptions for every 100 people.
Moreover, new data from a study recently conducted by Google and Singapore government’s investment arm, Temasek Holdings, shows that southeast Asia's internet economy is poised for major growth — and is expected to be a $278 billion market by 2025. Mobile payments was one specific industry pointed out as an area that has the ability for immense growth as companies across the region invest more in its digital infrastructure — an infrastructure that is ripe for mobile payments and commerce.
So, what have these three major mobile pay players have been up to in Singapore?
Apple Pay's Singapore Expansion
Apple Pay, which officially joined the Singapore market in April 2016 with American Express as its only supporter, has within the past week gained others. Just last week Apple Pay finally saw its full rollout in Singapore, with five major banks and Visa and MasterCard support.
Singapore isn't the only Asian market that Apple is eyeing.
“[Apple is] working rapidly in Asia and also in Europe, our goal is to have Apple Pay in every significant market Apple is in," Jennifer Bailey, VP of Apple Pay, was quoted as saying in a recent interview.
Just last week, Apple Pay got the support of Global Payments, a provider of payment technology services in Singapore, in order to help propel Apple Pay's in-store acceptance in the region.
Outside the U.S., Apple Pay is also in the U.K., Canada, Australia and China. Apple said it has plans to expand into Hong Kong, but there’s no clear date set for the launch. According to some unconfirmed reports in the past, it sounds like that next list could also include France, Hong Kong and Brazil.
“We have announced Hong Kong [and], across the [Asia Pacific] region, we’re talking to many partners and banks and evaluating how quickly we can bring Apple Pay to new markets,” Bailey said.
Android Pay Eyes Singapore Market
Just a few weeks ago, Android Pay launched in the U.K., and as soon as it launched there, there was already chatter about its next markets.
Those markets, from every indication, include Singapore and Australia, which are expected to be launched soon. Those were the latest details, which were revealed in a blog post from Pali Bhat, senior director of product management at Google, who gave a few hints about what to expect next from Google. Just like Singapore, the U.K. has a particularly high appetite for contactless payments, as Visa Europe's data shows that one in five of all physical card payments under £30 in the U.K. are now contactless payments.
As far as a launch date in Singapore?
“We will continue to add more countries, features, banks and stores in the coming months, making it even easier to pay with your Android phone around the globe,” Bhat wrote in his post.
Which will no doubt include Singapore.
Samsung Comes To Singapore — With Citi's Support
Samsung – which does not need NFC to enable mobile payments – also announced this week that it will enter Singapore with a partnership with Citibank Singapore.
When Samsung Pay is made available in Singapore, Citibank will enable its cardholders to make payments across the country using their eligible Samsung mobile devices.
“We are very pleased and excited to have Citibank come on board as our latest partner for Samsung Pay in Singapore,” said Eugene Goh, VP of IT and mobile for Samsung Electronics Singapore. “The partnership with Citibank, alongside our ecosystem of partners across payment networks, banks, retailers and merchants, assures customers that they will be able to enjoy the full benefits of using Samsung Pay almost anywhere in Singapore.”
According to the statement, the partnership with Citibank is just the latest in a portfolio of major payments networks and banks the company is working with to ensure its customers in Singapore have “greater flexibility, access and choice” when it comes to using Samsung Pay.
As for Samsung's next move? One could only guess it would be getting other financial institutions to back Samsung Pay in Singapore.