Cashless Payments: A rant

Ever since Apple introduced Apple Pay, I wanted to use cashless payments here in Sri Lanka. But with us being a tiny country that nobody really cares about, expecting Apple Pay or Samsung Pay to be available here was not going happen. Just look at all the trouble we’ve gone through to get PayPal here. It still hasn’t worked out despite all the petitions and promises (and it probably never will).

Cashless payments weren’t on my mind for a while until a friend mentioned something about Sampath Bank doing a NFC enabled card recently. This intrigued me and I went looking for info and discovered that Sampath Bank actually announced cards supporting Visa payWave back in July, 2016. Commercial Bank has also announced this last year and according to their websites, both banks are releasing payWave debit and credit cards right now— although I’m yet to see any merchants supporting payWave in the real world.

Update: After a comment mentioned that Sen Saal has contactless card payment support, I dragged a friend there to check it out. They did indeed have Sampath Bank signage which said you could pay with payWave. I asked the cashier if I could pay with that and she just nodded. It was clear that she didn’t know what it was when she asked for my card and proceeded with an ordinary transaction. So much for that.


Since payWave doesn’t seem to be going anywhere (yet) I kept looking for alternatives — which brings me to some new mobile wallet applications I tried out:

Frimi was the first of them and I did a small review about the app and experience for YAMU. Frimi uses an NTB bank account (existing or created when you sign up) for its financial functionality and they support NFC, QR code and a few more methods of payment. Signing up also creates a virtual debit card which you can use for online payments and such. I wasn’t too keen on keeping Frimi reloaded as I wanted to keep my money in my main bank account. Not a deal breaker, but not very Apple Pay-ish.

Apps!

The second app I tried was Dialog Genie. This seems similar to Apple Pay since you can add any credit or debit card to the application. They also promise support for bank accounts, mobile money accounts and loyalty cards soon but they don’t seem to support NFC based payments right now. Only QR codes. Since I couldn’t find any merchants accepting Genie, I tried using it for paying my Dialog Internet bill and for some reason it didn’t really work. Update: Dialog called me about this and I tried paying for my 4G connection again and the payment went through. Pretty straightforward.

The third one, Sampath PayApp, I didn’t try yet. You need a Sampath Bank account for this and it’s activated via your telebanking PIN number. It supports payments via QR code, by Sound(!) and NFC. From the screenshots I saw, this app seems to supported/developed by ROKA Pay.

One of the main problems I have is the lack of merchants who support these payment methods. Frimi helpfully shows a map and a list of places who accept Frimi as a payment method, but the list of merchants is still in its infancy. A lot of Laugfs outlets were on it, fortunately, so there’s some use you can get out of it. They’ve also been doing many promotional activities with clothing stores and even Big Bad Wolf.

Dialog Genie still doesn’t seem to have widespread use. Their site promises a list of merchants soon.

I discovered Sampath’s PayApp when I visited Royal Burger the other day. They had a huge sticker on their door mentioning that they accept PayApp payments. I didn’t even know that it existed until then.

Imagine yourself a merchant. Which platforms are you going to sign up with? All of them? A few of them? What if a user wants to pay with a platform that you’re not on yet? It’s going to be a pain to keep track of all of the services out there with all their separate apps and devices.

Will apps that support NFC work with other services? What if you use an NFC enabled credit card terminal? Will it work with the apps?

So many questions. So little answers. There’s virtually no information available right now on their websites either.

For this reason, something like payWave does seem more intuitive. You wouldn’t need to worry about seeing if the merchant supports your payments app, actually opening the app and logging in fumbling to type amounts or any of that. A wave of your card and you’d be done.

Awkard Frimi moments at Laugfs.

When I was trying out Frimi with my friend Kaveen, we dropped by a Laugfs outlet to check out how it worked. We had to ask if they supported Frimi — and fortunately the cashier was aware of it. Although he didn’t seem too excited about the added hassle, he went and got another payment terminal and entered a phone number to initiate the transaction. It wasn’t too different from using a card, since we had to sign the receipt that was printed as well. Since my expectations were of an Apple Pay like experience, I was rather disappointed.

I haven’t really tried out the other services in the wild yet, but since Genie advertises QR codes first and foremost, I feel like it’d be a smoother experience. Sampath’s sound based payment might be even easier, although I don’t know if it’d be actually secure.

😔

The current crop of apps don’t seem to have good design, either. The apps feel clunky and unpolished and when you’re dealing with money, you kind of expect the apps to be in top condition and I didn’t feel that was the case with Frimi and Genie. They were unresponsive at times, laggy when it came to animations and generally frustrating to use. You can read some of the issues I had with Frimi here. I stopped using Frimi since it seemed to kill my battery by running location services when I wasn’t using it. Dialog Genie refused to work on an SLT Fiber connection and it refused to log me in the other day. The website was also not responding and its fingerprint function wasn’t working at all, even though I set it up earlier. I really do wish they’d improve the user experience in the future.

So yeah. Everybody seems to be making payment apps these days and they don’t seem to support each other so far. The ideal scenario would could be a single standard that could be adopted by all the apps so you don’t have to (and the merchants don’t have to) sign up with multiple apps and pull your hair out figuring out what to use when. I’m certainly no expert at this but since every bank adopted LankaPay, I don’t think solving this would be that complicated.

Until someone figures this out, I’ll stick with cards. It’s quick enough. For now 😁

Do share what you think (and if there’s any information that I probably missed).

Links