Distributing Government Payouts with GovWallet
The disbursement & payment-facilitation system that manages Singapore government payouts securely
The current landscape of Singapore government payouts falls largely under two broad categories — direct credit (cash) and vouchers. For direct credit (cash) disbursement schemes, government agencies credit the payouts directly into the recipient's bank account or issue cheques to the unbanked individuals. For voucher disbursement schemes, government agencies will pre-purchase or print paper vouchers for distribution.
These modes of distributing government payouts served us well for decades. However, they have their fair share of challenges and more so as Singapore moves closer toward a cheque-free society to reduce the environmental impact. The banks are also starting to move away from the cheque issuance and cashing out services, making these services unsustainable as they get more costly and resource-intensive.
How can the government agencies find alternatives to high-touch/high-cost cheque services when they have half a million outbound cheques to be issued to the unbanked every year?
Similarly, for the voucher disbursement scheme, a substantial effort is put into setting up the voucher distribution program. Government agencies would take months of planning and coordination to print or purchase paper vouchers, set up distribution points for redemption, and then process reimbursements to the merchants subsequently. Recipients of these paper vouchers also end up making a trip down to a collection point, and may not remember to spend their vouchers before they expire.
While paper vouchers are still important for the elderly and digitally less savvy, can voucher distribution be improved for the digitally savvy ones?
How can the government agencies provide a more convenient way for recipients to receive their vouchers and not add to the already-tedious administrative process?
Are there commercially viable solutions?
Given the boom of the digital era, there is no lack of market solutions that try to address these problems I mentioned above. Just naming a few, we have GrabPay, DBS PayLah!, OCBC PayAnyOne, and FavePay which are widely adopted. However, given the sensitivity of the recipient’s data, when the government wants to deliver financial aid to low-income families, a non-government entity should not hold the information of the recipients.
To retain the privacy and confidentiality of the recipient’s information, we needed a government-owned financial disbursement solution that can be easily plugged and played across different agencies’ schemes.
What sparked the idea of GovWallet?
GovWallet’s inspiration lies behind enabling recipients to have more flexibility when it comes to spending their government payouts. We knew for a fact from IMDA’s Hawkers Go Digital programme that there were more than 10,000 hawkers that adopted the SGQR payment code at the hawkers and the heartland shops. If the recipients could just use this established and familiar mode to spend their government payouts, it would have provided them with a wide range of merchants to select from. Moreover, this effectively removes the need for a separate merchant onboarding exercise.
An internal staff challenge to figure out how to reward GovTech staff who worked on COVID-19 projects paved the way for the proof-of-concept of GovWallet on the LifeSG app in March 2021. We partnered with DBS bank, using their PayNow services to enable a real-time agency-to-merchant payment transfer when a recipient spends their credits on the LifeSG mobile app.
Our 1st publicly launched use case
Developed as a backend payment facilitation system, GovWallet can be made accessible to different frontend mediums, including the automated teller machines (ATM). Using that concept, Central Provident Fund Board (CPFB) partnered with OCBC and GovTech to launch GovCash as a cheque replacement solution for the unbanked recipients in November 2021. As a government-owned system, recipients do not need to have an OCBC account to use the ATMs for the GovCash service.
Besides withdrawing the payments in cash, recipients can also choose to transfer the money to a bank account of their choice using PayNow via the LifeSG app and by logging in with their Singpass.
In August 2022, eligible recipients of GSTV-Cash and GSTV-Cash Special Payment who have not provided their bank accounts or linked their NRICs to PayNow can receive their payouts using these modes.
Expanding merchants reach with NETS payment gateway
While more than 164,000 merchants registered with SGQR on PayNow (source: ABS), we noticed that majority of the hawkers and supermarkets were not using PayNow as an e-payment method.
As we gain tractioned and onboarded more government payout schemes, we were looking at ways to expand the merchant base. We partnered with the local banks to avail NETS payment gateway on GovWallet, allowing GovWallet users to access the over 42,000 merchants using NETS QR.
With PayNow and NETS, recipients are provided with a wider range of merchants and charities, either online or in-store.
How can we restrict usage of government payouts?
While it is great that we have a wide list of merchants to select from, there are government payout policies that restrict usage only to only a group of ringfenced merchants. To address these policy needs, GovWallet has developed the ringfencing feature that allows government agencies to filter where spending is allowed.
This feature is particularly useful for Health Promotion Board (HPB) which encourages a healthy lifestyle by onboarding merchants who provide healthier food and beverage (F&B) options. With the introduction of GovWallet in HPB’s Healthy 365 mobile app, users who collect “Healthpoints” from participating in HPB’s activities can convert these points into credits and use them at over 500 participating F&B merchants. This provides users with more options when spending their rewards and helps merchants in keeping track of sales through this cashless option. Read more about it here.
Servicing our National Servicemen (NSmen)
It was recently announced that all past and present NSmen will be given $100 credits on their LifeSG app from 1 July 2022. We are proud to be a part of this journey, to serve millions of our NSmen for their contributions to Singapore’s defence and security.
This was only made possible with the strong partnership with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) teams, taking their first step to moving towards a digital voucher solution starting with the NS Excellence Award and NS Celebratory Gifts in November 2021, and NS HOME awards in June 2022.
Looking back 1.5 years, this journey has been both challenging and gratifying for all of us. GovWallet wouldn’t have been possible without the strong collaboration from our industry and government partners.
As we scale to onboard more government financial disbursement schemes, we aim to bring an improved service experience to both our agency partners and end-users, enhancing our payment flows to cater for better handling of refunds and reversals. We are also looking to build a self-service portal for agency users to better administer their schemes.