OCBC Bank has been gaining reputation of late for being perhaps the most innovative among Singapore banks. It drastically revamped its online consumer banking service by introducing a cleaner interface, along with useful features like financial goal setting and money expenditure tracking. It then launched Velocity 2.0, a refresh of its much-loathed online business banking product.
Now, OCBC Bank has unveiled a new feature for its iOS consumer app: instant money transfer via Facebook, email, or SMS within Singapore. Called Pay Anyone, the functionality promises to make inter-bank transfer dead simple. Previously, I’d need to know your bank account details to wire money to you. Now, all I need is your contact information.
Here are screenshots of Pay Anyone in action:
And here’s what the person on the receiving end sees:
My verdict? OCBC has certainly nailed the execution: the app is easy-to-use and worked without hiccups. The question is whether it is really more convenient than existing methods of transferring money. The answer isn’t straightforward.
While Pay Anyone removes the need for users to exchange bank account details with one another, senders need to manually communicate the passcode with the receiver. Further, receivers must key in their bank account details every time they get money.
Although these measures may be put in place for security reasons, it does dampen the convenience factor that’s supposedly the selling point of Pay Anyone.
In fact, the app simply passes the hassle from the sender to the receiver. While in the past the latter would simply need to wait while the cash gets deposited into her bank account, now she would need to key in her account details again and again.
Would I, the sender, use the app? Sure, the experience as a whole is more pleasant than the usual method of transferring money. It’s just a pity that the benefit to consumers on both sides is marginal at best.
Nonetheless, Pay Anyone, which will arrive on Android in a month’s time, could improve over time and become the main way OCBC customers transfer money. Other banks could copy the feature, and that can only be good for Singapore residents.
Not quite disruptive
Think of Pay Anyone as an interface layer that’s tacked on top of Fast And Secure Transfers (FAST), a recently launched inter-bank transfer service that allows consumers to instantaneously shift funds between banks in Singapore. It works similarly to the Pockets app by ICICI Bank, India’s second largest bank.
However, these apps aren’t exactly a solution to some of the most pressing problems in personal finance: we lack an instantaneous, ubiquitous, and low-cost method to remit money across borders. Bitcoin is supposedly the answer, but government regulation, mass adoption, and price volatility remain significant obstacles.
Banks aren’t exactly incentivized either to lower the cost of inter-country transfers, since they themselves benefit from the hefty fees that come with such transactions. PayPal, of course, has been facilitating money transfer for years, but its adoption rate is still low in many parts of the world and particularly in Asia. As for China, which shows promise as a hotbed for innovation in third-party payments, the central government, in cahoots with the banks, could ensure that it doesn’t happen.
So, there really isn’t any internal or external pressure that’s strong enough to force an overhaul of the global finance industry. Those seeking a silver bullet will have to wait.
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