Igniting Smartwatches One Student At A Time

Despite Tim Cook’s most enthusiastic comments that the Apple Watch is doing “great,” the figures on the ground in the U.S. indicate pretty strongly that when it comes to wearables, the mainstream American consumer is doing more shrugging than cheering. A report from eMarketer earlier in the year revised their wearables growth curve down — from 60 percent in 2017 to a much more conservative 25 percent.

“Smartwatches in particular,” the report said, “have failed to impress customers.”

The problem is function. Apple Watches (and most others) are a few hundred dollar investment for a set of features that the phone in their pocket already performs, plus some fitness tracking features that can be imitated on a much less expensive fitness-focused wearable. In the case of the Apple Watch, users actually need their phones on them most of the time to use any internet-related feature.

In other words, the clunk factor reigns high.

But the silver lining for wearable and smartwatch lovers worldwide is that the U.S. is not wholly representative. Wearables as a category are doing somewhat better on a global scale. Not amazing — according to estimates by Canalys — but at 8 percent growth year over year it’s at least moving in an upward direction.

One of those countries, Singapore, offers some hints as to why the growth is stronger globally and will likely continue to be so. Their pilot program, spearheaded by POSB Bank (the consumer banking segment of the the Development Bank of Singapore, or DBS Bank), is connecting wearable technology to something inherently practical and useful: teaching financial responsibility to school-aged children.

The Program

First launched about a year ago as a small pilot, the smartwatch plan went into high gear last week when the program went live in 19 primary Singapore schools. Each student was given a POSB Smart Buddy wearable by the bank, which was paired with a custom mobile app.

Using the Smart Buddy app (also to be installed on their own mobile devices), parents can log in remotely to deposit funds, send emergency money, pre-set their kids’ daily spending limits and monitor their kids’ spending, savings, eating habits and activity levels. If a smartwatch goes missing, parents can remotely disable the device.

“It transforms the age-old ‘pocket money’ tradition, teaches students how to manage their expenses and save wisely and provides small business owners in schools greater incentive to adopt digital payments. To truly become a Smart Nation and for us to fully embrace digital payments, we aim to educate the students of today so that they are well prepared for the technology of tomorrow,” noted Jeremy Soo, managing director and head of Consumer Banking Group (Singapore), DBS Bank, on his hopes for the program.

Plus, because the watch comes with fitness tracking capabilities, parents can also use the watch to make sure their kids are getting enough exercise each day.  Specifically, the watch tracks total daily steps, distance traveled and calories burned.

Soo said that what the program can do today is a fraction of what it will be able to do in the future. DBS Bank has done more than provide some smart tech and a custom app — they’ve gone a step further and built a digital payment ecosystem for school children.

The Ecosystem

A payment and financial tracking system is, of course, not much use if students can’t actually use it to spend those funds, which is why DBS also built a digital payments ecosystem within schools to support the Smart Buddy program. School canteens and bookstores are now set up with digital payment terminals that allow users to simply tap and pay with their watches.

That ecosystem includes kiosks scattered about the grounds so that students can scan and check their remaining daily balances and tap and pay with their POSB Smart Buddy watches.

More broadly, those transactions are tracked within the app so that students can more easily keep track of what their spending looks like over time (three-month full reports are available so data over time can be visualized). Students are also given the option to create savings plans within the app and are rewarded with badges when they are completed.

Notably, the student payment ecosystem is also available outside school.

“We believe that POSB Smart Buddy represents a paradigm shift for Singapore’s education sector, not only by changing the way students save and spend, but by creating a digital payment ecosystem within schools,” Soo said.

That paradigm shift may well continue to roll along. Students who participated in the pilot generally reported favorably on it, noting that they would like to continue using it.

Soo said that soon it will move beyond primary school children: A similar wearable tech program is in the works for Singapore’s secondary and tertiary school students.

Because while it is said (and sang) that the children are our future — often, in commerce, they are our present as well. Air Jordans — Nike’s most famous sneaker brand — remain popular enough to sell out every release every year (though Nike pushes that result by slightly underproducing each run at 250K each) and to put about $100 million per year into Michael Jordan’s accounts.

That trend was wholly and entirely kicked off by school children who wanted to be like Mike.

If kids adopt it, often their parents (and their parents’ money) will come.  And soon, so does everyone else.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.