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There has been an exponential increase in demand for digital services across Southeast Asia (SEA), with the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way we live, work and shop. Rolling lockdowns, movement controls and safe distancing measures have demanded that consumers across the region conduct — and pay for — their shopping, healthcare, education and entertainment remotely and digitally.

While we might have expected this to be a painful process, an unintended consequence of country-wide efforts across SEA to modernize payment infrastructures has truly paid off.

The infrastructure already existed for payments to migrate to digital en masse — and at a moment’s notice. This dramatic shift has been a continuation of a developing trend in payment habits in SEA — albeit now happening at an accelerated pace.

For central infrastructure-led payments modernization strategies that are laying the foundation for the growth of real-time payments, this means that success might just be a case of sticking to the plan.

That’s not to say that financial institutions and other businesses have escaped the consequences of COVID-19. Reduced economic activity has harmed many business sectors, particularly hospitality and tourism. It will ultimately manifest itself in strained budgets for all businesses — financial institutions included.

But even in a challenging economic climate, Southeast Asian organizations can ill-afford to put their modernization projects on hold. The direction of travel is clear, and there will be a stark difference between those that embrace modernization and real-time payments, and those that do not. ACI Worldwide’s 2021 Prime Time for Real-Time report shows that real-time transaction volumes and values have jumped significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Asia.

With this in mind, we wanted to gain a deeper understanding of consumers’ payment preferences in 2021 and beyond. In particular, we wanted to get a sense of how consumers in Southeast Asia view the rise of digital and real-time payments. Additionally, we wanted to take a look ahead at digital payments in a post-pandemic world. We wanted to get a sense of how they expect to pay for goods and services when leisure travel resumes, and explore the factors that would lead to consumers shopping cross-border more frequently.

Now, we have data that puts forward a strong, consumer-driven case for continued payments modernization in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia — four key countries in the region.

This modernization is happening at pace — in recent days, Bank Negara (Malaysia) announced the completion of the first phase in linking the real-time retail payment systems of DuitNow in Malaysia and PromptPay in Thailand, enabling cross-border QR code payments. There is a vital need to continue the development of a cross-border, real-time payments ecosystem for the region — with the eventual vision that this will span the whole of Asia.

Join experts from ACI Worldwide and Mastercard to explore global lessons from the most successful real-time payment infrastructure launches in this special #LinkedInLive on September 23: Building the Future with New Real-Time and Digital Payment Infrastructures

Find out more about consumer real-time payment preferences, and about how financial institutions and merchants in Southeast Asia can become real-time-ready, in the full report: Real-Time Goes Mainstream

Managing Director - Asia Pacific

Based in Singapore, Leslie is responsible for aligning and driving ACI’s core and new business opportunities across Asia Pacific (APAC). A long-term industry veteran, he has over 20 years’ experience in financial services having led several transformation projects in multi-channel and payments. Leslie has also held several senior roles with industry software leaders with extensive experience from the financial software industry and banking transformation space – including corporate cash management, trade finance, retail banking, and payments.