In Part 1, we reported that the great majority of migrant workers we see at TWC2 now have bank accounts, a sea change from the situation in 2016. Even more interestingly, about half of them had bank cards that were Visa- or MasterCard-enabled. Since even the most basic ATM card has NETS capability, migrant workers should be able to do many transactions in a cashless way.

But do they?

Our anecdotal notes indicate that they mostly use their bank cards merely to withdraw money from ATMs and check their balances.

Transit fares

Probably the one transaction that all workers have to perform fairly regularly is that of topping up their transit farecards. There are many ways this can be done and most Singaporeans seem to be doing it cashlessly. We decided to ask nearly 100 workers what methods they used to top up their transit farecards. We obtained comprehensible answers from 97 of them. Do note that in the questionnaire, workers could indicate more than one way of topping up if indeed their habits varied, meaning that the 137 responses in total came from 97 men.

The above numbers are expressed in a pie chart here:

About three in four of the 137 responses involved cash, either at the manned counter at metro stations (MRT stations) or at the top-up machines (formally known as General Ticketing Machines). There is no need to. At both the counter and the machines, it is faster and simpler to transfer money from one’s bank card to the transit farecard electronically. NETS, Visa and Mastercard can be used.

No confidence

We asked a worker to comment on what we saw in our survey results. He said, “No one explain to me how to use card like that.”

Another guy chimed in, “the words [on the ticketing machine’s screen] all English. I not sure I understand.”

His comment is borne out by a small finding from our survey. Of 29 responses saying they used their bank cards, 20 of them (two in three) said they did so at the manned service counter. These guys could just as easily have topped up their farecards at the machines with their bank cards, but they would rather have another human do it for them even though quite often this involves extra time in the queue at the counter. They just didn’t seem to have the confidence to do it by themselves at the machines.

Some workers had Visa-affiliated bank cards, but they said they had no idea what else they could do with such cards.

Even more interestingly, there were five respondents who told us that they topped up their transit cards using the EZ-Link mobile app. This app requires a link to a credit or debit card or to a bank account. Money is transferred into the transit card through Near-Field Communication (NFC). It only shows that going all the way to remote cashless transactions is quite possible even with migrant workers once the basics (i.e. bank account and preferably Visa- or MasterCard enabled cards) are in place.

However, a learning ramp needs to be provided for better uptake.