Vocalink, a Mastercard company, helped the Singapore payments industry realise its bold ambition of implementing immediate bank transfers and debit requests as part of the FAST service.
The Singapore challenge
Singapore is an advanced economy that employs a variety of clearing and settlement systems. It needed to transform its payments infrastructure to offer instant interbank transfers. The objective was to offer FAST (Fast And Secure Transactions) transfers via online and mobile channels. Prior to the introduction of FAST, instant fund transfers were only available for transactions between accounts held at the same bank. Interbank transfers could take up to three working days to complete.
There are two principal companies involved in processing Singapore’s payments. BCS is the infrastructure company that runs the clearing services, owns the data centres and delivers the services to customer banks, and BCSIS, which provides application software and support. Both companies wished to develop a batch-based service and a real-time clearing service simultaneously.
This was the inspired vision of the Monetary Authority of Singapore but it needed to be supported by bold decisions and new, creative ways of working. BCSIS was keen to tap into the practical experience and expertise of the UK industry.
The core technology
BCS sought a best-of-breed solution that could deliver interbank transactions and confirmations between the Singaporean banking community in real-time. Vocalink could deliver a practical solution, its Instant Payment Service, and also offer practical support during the implementation and beyond. BCS could embed IPS into its local operational systems to accelerate the delivery of the overall FAST solution.
The IPS software implementation comprised two components: The Central Switch and the Back Office. It is designed to operate across multiple sites, offering full resilience with no single point of failure.
In addition, bank integration is simplified by the Common Payments Gateway, which sends and receives messages to and from bank applications and IPS. Functionality includes validating payment messages, logging payment messages, generating and validating digital signatures, ‘round-robin’ routing of messages and load balancing. All banks adopted the Gateway in order to simplify access to the FAST service.
A consultative approach
At the outset of the project, Vocalink consulted with BCSIS to identify the key business requirements of a transformational payments platform and a specialist Vocalink team worked with the participating banks, facilitating workshops to build awareness and confidence. These workshops were designed to demonstrate the benefits of a real-time service from a bank perspective, based on the UK experience.
The workshops enabled Vocalink to collaborate with the Singaporean banks to deliver a bespoke solution, reflecting the configurability of the Vocalink solution. After an initial discovery and consultative phase, it was decided that Vocalink could help accelerate delivery of the new infrastructure and could also de-risk the project.
The complexity of the project was substantial. Although Singapore is an advanced economy with a mature payments infrastructure, moving to real-time processing with 24x7x365 support was a considerable undertaking. Nearly all business processes had to be re-engineered from a 9am to 5pm operation to support the new platform.
A unique product
The FAST project was launched in March 2014. The service enables customers of the 14 participating banks to perform interbank transfers of up to S$10,000 per transaction, subject to withdrawal limits of the individual lenders. It can be accessed using a range of electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones or personal computers and has been available around the clock since launch.
The project heralds a new dawn in Singapore payments. Now people can pay who they want, when they want, knowing they will receive the exact amounts in near real-time. End-to-end payments are effected in under 15 seconds and more than 33,000 transactions totalling S$64 million in value were processed on the first two days of operation.
In addition to the capabilities provided by UK Faster Payments, the FAST service will also include the ability to raise debit requests as well as ‘push credits’. This facility will underpin further innovation in Singapore payments.