The Philippines looks to finally be embracing what so many other nations have come to take for granted: Cashless payments. From shopping to daily commuting, these instantaneous transactions have the potential to streamline the lives of the modern consumer in an ever-growing number of ways.
AF Payments, Inc., the firm behind tap-and-go payment system beep card, had a watershed 2018, ending the year with a few notable milestones. On August 8, 2018, the company recorded its one billionth transaction in Metro Manila’s light rail network (LRT 1, LRT 2, and MRT 3) since its inception in 2015.
Today, the company claims over five million beep cards are in the market, used to fast-track payments at transportation hubs and, more recently, a growing list of retail outlets.
“2018 has been a productive year for beep,” said Peter Maher, president and CEO of AF Payments, Inc. “It allowed us to form strategic alliances and establish more innovative ways to extend our service to a wider public.”
The beep card is most widely used as the platform powering a more streamlined light rail system, as well as the newer point-to-point (P2P) buses plying Mega Manila’s thoroughfares. AF Payments has since introduced their system to modern jeepneys across Metro Manila, e-trikes zipping through Intramuros, and private bus fleets in Mindanao.
“There’s a lot of change in the jeepney sector, including the formation of larger cooperatives,” he said. AF Payments has partnered with banks offering loans to these cooperatives. “We’ve contracted with five players so far which represent about a thousand jeeps.”
With the beep card platform, jeepney operators can more accurately track their performance, a boon for both them and the lending banks looking to track their investments. “There’s a growing acceptance of the need for the program, for the benefit of the millions of Filipinos who use these services.”
AF Payments also launched its first community partnership this year, with LNC Link. Lancaster New City (LNC), a new township in Imus, Cavite, outfitted its residents with NFC-enabled cards, allowing them to avail of a variety of services, including a new sprawling bus system connecting fixed points throughout LNC and neighboring areas.
AF Payments will soon be exploring similar partnerships with groups in Bukidnon, Iloilo, and Cebu, taking their smart city concept nationwide.
“Transportation has been and will continue to be our core strength,” Maher said, attributing a lot of their expansion efforts to government support towards developing their industry for the benefit of Filipino commuters.
The future of retail
Having cut their teeth in transportation, and proven their system’s strength and consistency, AF Payments has leveraged their wide user base to move into another ripe sector: Retail.
Beyond the food kiosks in light rail stations, AF Payments has partnered with establishments like Wendy’s, Binalot, and Worship Generation to offer customers on-the-go a more convenient buying experience.
The firm has also begun looking to partner with schools. Currently, they’ve powered St. Jude Catholic School’s student, staff, and faculty IDs with stored value credits that can be used at their cafeteria and commissaries.
The firm is also looking to revamp their mobile app, expanding its functions through a partnership with Coins.ph. Initially limited to simply checking card balances, the app will now allow users to load their cards on-the-go.
Utilizing near field communication (NFC), users can tap their beep cards on the back of their phones, and instantly top up using the new mobile app. AF Payments claims they plan to implement a loyalty system as well that rewards frequent users with bonus stored credits.
In addition to the mobile app, Chinabank debit cardholders can now load their beep cards directly using Chinabank ATMs. And the bank will soon be expanding this service to other debit cardholders looking to top up at their terminals.
Building a cashless society
“The move to cash to cashless is a multi-year effort,” Maher said. In 2019, he plans to build a stronger presence in transport, which Maher says continues to be AF Payment’s main focus. This means more cities like LNC utilizing beep cards for their buses, PUVs, and public parking systems.
While many platforms across the globe have moved into using smartphones and smartwatches as the primary devices for cashless, tap-to-pay transactions, AF Payments will continue building its services around the physical beep card.
When dealing with mass transportation systems, Maher says that expediency and reliability are key. A simpler system like an NFC-enabled, value-stored card means consistent service and zero lag time. Transactions via smart devices are still on the horizon, he says. But these will complement the beep card, never replace it.
AF Payments hopes their beep card will grow into something akin to Hong Kong’s ubiquitous octopus card, a contactless stored value smart card for making electronic payments in online or offline systems. And Maher says that future isn’t too far off.
“The numbers go up every year,” Maher said. “In the light rail network, around 60 percent of people are using beep cards. I think it will grow by one or two percent each year. In 2018, I think the e-wallet guys have had their best year. They’re targeting the unbanked communities, so that’s a hot area. I think there’s good momentum for cashless transactions in the Philippines.”