Should Singapore go cashless? Here is a productivity driven angle

A numbers-driven look at the potential benefits of a cashless Singapore

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By Jia Huang Ho

Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, recently made the headlines during his National Day Rally on trying to push for a cashless society in SG and this caught the attention of many people from both sides of for and against. What ticked me off was that most of these arguments were widely anecdotal with no attempts made to shed light from the quantitative perspective.

Let me preface this by saying that first of all, I acknowledge and understand that this problem is extremely multi-dimensional, and that trying to put a number to it from just one of its facets is really barely scratching the surface.

In light of that, I have yet to digest all possible variables for me to make a meaningful and concrete stance on whether or not I think it is the right choice for Singapore to go completely cashless, but that being said, I think that there is plenty of value to be harnessed just from trying to make sense of the numbers from breaking down a microcosm of the actual full-fledged implementation.

Without further ado, let’s try to break it down.

Since the example of hawkers was widely cited, let’s try to work with that.

From the Purchasers’ Perspectives

On average, let’s assume that every hawker in Singapore makes a monthly revenue of about $10,000, which is considered to be on the low side. If the average cost of a meal at the hawker center is $5, on average a hawker will serve 2,000 customers every month.

Also read: Singapore is making cashless payments a key to its Smart Nation, and this is a mistake

Lets say every transaction that the hawker makes, we can shave off 10 seconds of time originally required for the buyer to look for his/her money, pass it to the hawker, and wait for him/her to find the right change. 2,000 customers every month will represent 20,000 seconds saved in this aspect, which is then translated into 5.5 (rounded down) hours saved every month due to the cashless implementation for the purchasers.

From 2016 statistics, it is shown that the median (i recognize this has an inherent skew, but let’s make do since using mean will result in worse skews) salary is $4,000. While this has been increasing consistently over the years, let’s just assume it didn’t this year and stayed stagnant. Assume that each person works 9 hours a days, 5 days a week — that translates into 180 hours a month and 5.5 hours translates into $122 a month. Of course, we should also take into account that time savings doesn’t translate directly into productivity $, but other opportunity costs as well, like more family time, more time to relax, etc.

As for the Hawkers

Let’s also make some basic assumptions about the hawker. If the hawker is only really busy and faced with a queue 20% the time (fair assumption, since lunch + dinner hours take up about 3 hours tops and most sales come in during that period), and let’s say one cycle of end to end transaction (from ordering to food getting served and payment) takes 2 minutes, shaving 10 seconds off that represents an 8% increase in efficiency, which translates into overall 1.6% increase in effectiveness and a potential of additional $160 revenue every month.

We now understand that if cashless was implemented, the total value that can be created is $160 + $122 = $282 per month, just from a pure quantitative, productivity driven angle.

From the NEA site we seem to have a total of 107 hawker centres in SG, and from a slightly less credible site, 5,800 total hawker stalls. Giving it benefit of doubt, that equates to a total potential of $1,635,600 value created monthly.

Project Costs?

I won’t give my personal comments on how much I think this overall project should cost (partially due to my lack of knowledge), but from my limited understanding of how much government projects of this scale typically cost, I’d ballpark $1.5m — 2m SGD. Let’s just assume it is 2M SGD just for software development.

For logistics operations as well as headcount staffing costs required for education as well as training, to be frank i don’t have a good ballpark, but my overstated estimate for this is $1,000.

It’s highly unlikely that the weighted proportionate cost for the fixed development cost should be more than anything between 20–30% for the development of hawkers going cashless, but let’s just take 50% to be the upper benchmark assumption, and this portion of the project absorbs the proportionate 50% of the fixed cost sunk into development ($2m x 50% = $1M).

Also read: Cashless in Singapore

The total cost we would arrive at for the development of the project just for the hawkers would be ($1,000 x 5,800) + $1,000,000 = $6,800,000. I estimate this project to take no more than 2 years, but assuming it takes the full 2 years, and we factor NPV at a rate of 7% interest rate for 2 years (this is even unrealistic, since our inflation rate has been really low over past years), it totals up to $7,785,320. If we add in another year (paid upfront at start of the year) for the first year of operation, we arrive at the total sum of $8,330,292.4, and for a second year of operations also paid upfront, we arrive at $8,913,412.9.

Let’s just say that my estimates were really poor and I under-budgeted by 100% for this project, taking double ($8,913,412.9 x 2 = $17,826,825.7) of the projected costs.

Even with these fail-safes in place, if our figures add up, we would have broken even in terms of “value creation” on the 11th month of operation, and the project will have a 100% ROI on the 22nd operational month.

Just from this angle alone, I’d say it does look pretty attractive.

Jia Huang Ho blogs at Medium. The Independent thanks him for his contribution.

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Featured Image Copyright: ronniechua / 123RF Stock Photo

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25 comments

  1. Lim LG says:

    ANY BREAKDOWN, USE OF CASH IS STILL INEVITABLE.

    THEN, WHY CAN’T PPL HV THE CHOICE TO USE. WHICHEVER MODE OF PAYMENTS THAT IS CONVENIENT AND APPROPRIATE TO ONESELF?

    TO ME, I STILL PREFER CASH PAYMENT BECOS I COULD CONTROL MY SPENDING WITH THE SET AMOUNT I HV IN HAND.

  2. I like the comments by Brian Vittachi – Monkey see monkey do”. I do not see cashless will happen throughout China. It only happened in city like Shanghai, Beijing, where people or tourist and mostly those who are rich and affordable will go along and support with cashless transaction. So for Singapore, maybe cashless make sense for tourist attraction places not for housing estate. Tourist attraction such as Orchard road, Universal Studio and other tourist attraction places will make sense to go cashless. Looking at Singaporean almost 70 -80% are staying in HDB flats, their salary have to take care of their housing loans, child education, utilities bills and other expenses. So to control expenditure, manage cash flow in hand will better control of spending then just swipe and swipe until you finally realised you have exceed your spending for the month. Credit cards is a good example of how many card owners owed the bank because of over spending beyond their credit limits. This spending beyond limits will also happened when someone go on spending using cashless mode of payment. Cashless is a foresee danger to the lower and even some middle class working people on how they manage their spending and how many have the time to monitor it. Cash in hand which you withdrew from ATM monthly you are in control of your spending and sometime you might withdraw additional amount to spend if the need to do so. But you are aware and you are in control of your cash flow to avoid fall into debts.

  3. Dave Tan says:

    Cashless is not impossible in the future. However, its so Stupid to over do thing just because of PM Lee speech. All rushing to carry his balls?
    Despite so many epayment in China, cash is still acceptable even in train stations.
    When Singapore is still so backwards on epayment, why talk about cashless?

  4. Ah Soh says:

    Smart nation so what when a woman in her 41 weeks of pregnancy committed suicide as hospital did not accede to her request to deliver her baby by caesarian section as family did not agree.

  5. If one is too poor to have a smart phone or have a phone plan with minimum data bundle, one will face considerable handicap in daily life transaction unless one is forced to pay for smart phone with sufficient data plan to use e transaction. This group of people will be heavily handicapped in daily living. Has the Govt considered this group or to hell with this group for the sake of a cashless society title?

  6. My hunch is that this push to go cashless is really to pave the way for electronic balloting at the next election. Without any real independent body to observe the election procedure and almost impossible for non Govt agencies and independent bodies to scrutinise and monitor electronic balloting from being manipulated, e election can be abused for corrupt end for a ruling party to hold on to power.

  7. A lot of people are under declaring and machines will fix this. Machines , cameras , microchip is going to take all privacy away. In the sane world only the madman will not commit suicide. This will mentally affect normal people.

  8. From this PE election, we learned a lot from government future strategies. Banks and financial sector will be given a limit to transact, loan and credit and businesses not more than $500 million so that no CEO will be qualified for future PE candidates. Banks with Government subsidies and government shares would be an advantage. So in another words, government will be the overall controller on how you would live, spend, earns, borrow, and etc.. etc… that’s why minimum salary is not a popular subject to them. So citizens need to think properly in the future whether you need these kind of living?

  9. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Why force things down peoples’ throat when there is no pressing need? If other countries are doing it so what?
    This is like monkey see monkey do and we are not monkeys.

  10. alot of businesses operate at margins that do not make sense for that level of fees that these operators on the island work on. heck even macdonalds were decades late compared to regional counterparts to adopt debit services while they were ok with credit.

  11. Diu Lei says:

    Brag sumore lah those hawkers, this few years so many YaYa hawkers keep getting on the news like that jackpot aunty, recipes or hawker biz selling for millions, Michelin hawkers having long ques, now the govt want a piece of what you people are really earning unlike the amount that you people always under declare.

  12. Diu Lei says:

    Brag sumore lah those hawkers, this few years so many YaYa hawkers keep getting on the news like that jackpot aunty, recipes or hawker biz selling for millions, Michelin hawkers having long ques, now the govt want a piece of your tax.

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