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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.

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

Based in Singapore, Leslie is responsible for the management and direction of all aspects of the sales and services business across Asia. Leslie has over 20 years’ experience in financial services having led many transformation projects in multi-channel and payments. Leslie has held a number of senior roles with industry software leaders including BroadVision, BEA Weblogic and more recently S1 Corporation. He brings a diverse and extensive experience from the financial software industry and banking transformation space, including in corporate cash management, trade finance, retail banking and payments.