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Singapore banks examine use of Facebook IDs for transfers

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Service examined by Singapore banks could also use Twitter usernames for payments.

Banks in Singapore are collaborating on a new service that would allow customers to make payments using Facebook IDs or Twitter username.

The system will allow electronic transfers between account holders who have registered their social media identities with their banks, allowing users to make payments by selecting the payee’s Facebook ID instead of typing in an account number and sort code.

The service will be based on Singapore’s existing internal fund transfer system, known as FAST, which brings together 20 banks to allow near-instant fund transfers. A pilot is due to take place in the first quarter of 2017.

Dispensing with the need to know a payee’s bank account details is intended as a step towards making electronic transfers as “frictionless” as cash, according to a person working on the project.

The proxy ID system would begin with the use of mobile phone numbers as substitutes for bank accounts.

The person said: “We are building a system for the future with capabilities to store multiple [proxy IDs]. This will be a gradual change … people will start using mobile numbers and gradually move to other proxies.”

HV Vinayak, Asia-Pacific digital banking analyst at McKinsey, said that while a growing number of banks globally have adopted mobile numbers as proxies for bank accounts, it is “early days” for the use of social media ID in banking.

Mr Vinayak said: “One concern is privacy. We did consumer research in India. Even for the millennial segment — who were active on Facebook — banking needs to be trusted, and it’s unclear whether using a Facebook ID to log on to a bank account had the same level of trust.”

Singapore’s plans resemble the Paym mobile payments service launched in the UK in 2014, which allows account holders at 17 banks and building societies to make transfers using a mobile phone number.

In Denmark, more than 3m people have downloaded a Danske Bank app which allows the use of mobile phone numbers as proxies for accounts.

Indian banks are also experimenting with using social media IDs as substitutes for account numbers. India’s Axis Bank offers an app which allows account holders to send money using WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter IDs. However, non-account holders can only use Axis Bank’s Ping Pay app to request and not make payments.

Christophe Uzureau, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Gartner said the Singapore project had the potential to accelerate the flow of money through the economy.

He said: “If you’re an entrepreneur, you can create a funding campaign using Facebook. The organisers of a school trip can use Facebook to see who’s paid.

“An airline can used Facebook IDs rather than cash or vouchers to refund passengers for a delay. It’s more flexible and it lowers costs.”

Singapore’s FAST system is available to customers of 20 banks to make transfers in Singapore dollars within the city-state.

Participating banks include regional institutions DBS and UOB, as well as global banks with Asian retail operations, such as HSBC and Citi.

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