NFC, Innovation and Mobile Wallets in Singapore
In recent weeks various mobile operators have announced partnership launches for NFC Wallets in Singapore. One of the first was Starhub's partnership with DBS, Fevocard and MasterCard. I have been involved in the deployment of multiple operations acros multiple s counties and continents. So as a seasoned industry guy, I was excited that I would finally get a chance to experience mobile payments in my resident country. So I did all my research, and found that as a Starhub customer I would need to head to Customer Service Centre to get activated and swap my SIM for an NFC ready chip. A little disappointing, given most other NFC Wallets, such as Google's Wallet doesn't require a SIM swap. Upon arrival at the Customer Service Centre I was greeted with a slightly confused service agent that didn't quite understand how to issue the new SIM. An activity which took just over 45 minutes, only to be faced with the a replacement SIM charge, and an activation charge totalling almost SGD $50. Disappointing given the utility of the wallet is far inferior to that of the existing EZLink cards, primarily because its not accepted on Public Transport. Interesting choice by Starhub, as it creates a huge barrier to consumer adoption, cost. A cost that isn't justified on the value of the product. No doubt someone in Starhub who is responsible for SIM cost recovery had the charge imposed based on the current ways of doing SIM swaps. A very short sighted decision. As an early adopter, I sucked it up and still proceeded.
The next step is the downloading of the Starhub SmartWallet App from the Google Play store, which didn't work on multiple attempts across multiple handsets. Leaving me with an NFC SIM and a service that Starhub were unable to activate. I left the Service centre with a jaded view on Starhub's product & service design approach. Why have they taken to market such as poor product and experience. Why is the offering far from the ease of Google Wallet? Things that should be simple and straight forward have been complicated by the multitude of internal stakeholders, none of which understood the market benchmarks or a had a desire of delivering good customer experience. Frustrating.
But, in the absence of Starhub's help, I persevered, and what I found was even more disappointing than the in store experience. I was finally able to download the App with a few tricks I've learnt over the years as an Android user. But a key challenge was the replacement SIM I was given wasn't active on the network for nearly four hours, a key dependency on the activation of the secure element in the phone. And more importantly, leaving me without a phone for four hours. Kind of a difficult thing to accept for a self-confessed mobile addict, adding yet another huge barrier to adoption.
Once I had the service up, and app activated, I was faced with yet another layer of service activation. This time for the EZLink purse, and the FEVO NFC Prepaid MasterCard Wallet. Two separate activations with equally difficult processes. In this Starhub hands the customer service responsibility entirely over to FEVOcard. A company that calls itself, "a new frontier in cashless payment! FEVO is a prepaid payment card that combines the prestige of a MasterCard® card with the effortless convenience of an ez-link card." But they've completely overlooked the build quality of their customer site (fevocard.com.sg) which had continue errors, and at times was blocked by Starhub's own SafeWeb internet filter. Fevocard.com is also the main channe for topping up the wallet... shame, cause to this moment I am yet to be able to actually get it to work. So after 24 hours of constant perseverance from passionate early adopter with a wealth of reference experience, I am still unable to get the wallet active with money. Let's hope that once I do, it actually works for payments. Otherwise this could be an embarrassing experience for a country that was voted in the top ten countries ready for NFC wallets.
One of the challenges here is the thinking and delivery process from the incumbents that only want to block out competition in deploying their product, along with a framework that is based on legacy thinking. What's resulted is a process that hands the customer between multiple service providers like a hot potatoes, with little ownership and little consideration given to the design of a simple customer experience. Singtel and M! have similar offerings entering the market in the coming weeks, let's hope they've at least put some thought into designing a better product & service. Cause in my opinion, Starhub is miles away from a service that stands a chance of successful adoption. Its yet another example of a weak thinking position that incumbents have when entering a new service space.
I've sent an open invitation to Starhub for them to meet to hear my feedback and thoughts... let's see what they come back with.
I am a big believer in giving credit where it's due. After this post Starhub reached out to me and even met with me within hours of this post going up. They were extremely open to the feedback, and took it all onboard. I was super impressed that they were on the pulse. Let's hope they can take my feedback to make a truly great product. Best of luck Starhub