17 March 2018
We hope that in this Year of the Dog, Hong Kong will step up the march towards a cashless society. Photo: HKEJ/Reuters
We hope that in this Year of the Dog, Hong Kong will step up the march towards a cashless society. Photo: HKEJ/Reuters

Cashless city hopes in Year of the Dog

Cash is king. That may still be true, but a king who is old and weary and about to yield his throne to the crown prince – electronic money.

Who doesn’t like cash, especially cash in red packets over the Lunar New Year?

But just across the border, more than 700 million mainlanders handed out lai see through WeChat. Come to think of it, that’s about one-tenth of the world’s population using a mobile payment system to send money online.

Cash, just like coins, will sooner or later be a thing of the past. I still remember a time when we used to receive red packets with coins. But that’s not done anymore in our inflated economy. Now it seems putting just a HK$10 note in a lai see is bad manners.

And of course, there’s the risk associated with cash. A local paper carried a story about how night-shift taxi drivers were fooled by a HK$20 note that looks like a HK$500 bill. That’s a big loss for poor cabbies who often make no more than HK$800 per shift.

Many local cabbies are very resistant to the introduction of e-money in the taxi fare system. That’s mainly because they won’t be able to receive the cash right away. Besides, they worry that they won’t get a tip.

On Lunar New Year’s Eve, yours truly hopped on a cab with an Alipay system. It was not an easy thing to use for a first-timer like me. It took us about 10 minutes to sort out how to pay using a mobile system.  My worry was that I might press a button to pay the fare but the driver won’t get the payment.

Besides, the QR code at the back of the driver’s seat was for a discount offer, not for fare payment. And first-time users, being first-time users, are likely to miss the discount.

A chat with the cabbie revealed that Alipay doesn’t give much cash incentive to the driver, who can only transfer the money to their account once the total has exceeded HK$300.

Tipping is not an issue because it would be up to the customer to input the fare. I thought it would be nice if there’s a tipping system in the payment platform which would allow the passenger to show a bit of appreciation after a good ride.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. After using the mobile payment system for the first time, I can’t wait to try it again, say, by dining at a mainland restaurant, where customers usually get a discount on the bill.

In a country where even beggars and hookers accept mobile payments, as a certain former economic professor in Hong Kong has suggested, I hope to see more mobile payment options available locally. That indeed would make Hong Kong a cashless society. Let’s step up the pace in the Year of the Dog.

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EJ Insight writer

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