With Cash Rebates And Vouchers Going Digital, Are Seniors Being Left Behind?
I woke up this morning to a news piece that read:
“Half a million strike in UK as cost-of-living crisis bites”
We are no strangers to the rising costs of living here in Singapore.
But while we are faring relatively well compared to the rest of the developed world, 8 in 10 Singaporeans feel that their financial situations have been affected in the past year.
In response to this, the government has been doing its best to help us cope with handouts and rebates such as Community Development Council (CDC) Vouchers and most recently, in partnership with DBS, a cash rebate of up to $3 on Fridays using the DBS Paylah app.
But therein lies a problem.
These are all digital solutions.
And to no one’s surprise, the most severely affected by inflation are likely those who aren’t digitally literate.
So how can Singapore cross the bridge to a cashless society while avoiding its pitfalls?
The Digital Divide
If you recall, CDC vouchers were given out digitally and could be claimed by logging in with Singpass. Usage of these vouchers is also digital as it requires users to have an internet connection before presenting merchants with the QR code after the user has selected the amount to be used.
To most of us reading this now, this seems like a pretty basic and straightforward thing to do.
However, for seniors, this is a tough ask with many hurdles to jump over.
Digital Literacy and Reluctance
First off, there’s the problem of literacy, with many seniors not being able to read English.
Just imagine using your phone but with everything in a foreign language. It would be extremely hard to navigate without the help of icons and familiarity with digital devices and typical website/application designs.
Not to mention, some seniors are afraid or reluctant to use digital services. Their fears aren’t unfounded either with many scams happening over the years that have kept even well-educated people on their toes.
Even if they were willing and are digitally literate, there are still other pitfalls such as forgetfulness or carelessness, as is the case with the recent news of a Ban Mian customer mistakenly paying $450 instead of $4.50 for a hawker meal.
Despite being digitally literate, many internet users have also found issues when dealing with digital payments.
Some cited that user interfaces aren’t friendly enough or that these payment services may encounter issues such as double billing.
Even as a guy with relatively slim fingers, I still find myself with typos when texting and I’ll admit that there have been times when I typed in $5000 instead of $500 when I wanted to transfer money. So imagine what it would be like as a senior with worsening eyesight and fingers that move clumsily over an unfamiliar digital keypad.
These problems when compounded, thus pose a huge obstacle for seniors to overcome and to some extent, us digitally-savvy younger folk too.
Digital Rebates and Vouchers – Why Use Them?
So many problems. Why use them then?
Like with every new technology, there is general uncertainty and fear associated with it. It happened when blockchain technology became popular with cryptocurrencies and also when the internet was new.
While blockchain has yet to be integrated into our lives just yet, the internet is now ubiquitous throughout the world. Digital payments are still relatively new and while they do have their pitfalls, it’s hard to argue against the conveniences they bring.
The digital transformation of Singapore and the rest of the world is ultimately inevitable, which is why our government has been at the forefront of it all with apps such as Singpass, Life.sg and the CPF app.
But what about the seniors who are left behind?
Of course, the government has also thought about it and hence introduced various ways to help solve this issue.
Bridging the Digital Divide
One of the most prominent initiatives is the Seniors Go Digital programme by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). As of last October, more than 190,000 seniors have been trained in basic digital skills, such as using a smartphone to access government services.
As for CDC vouchers, you have the option for physical vouchers by heading to the nearest Community Centre.
Ironically, as seen above, for those who don’t have a mobile device or digital device, or family members to assist them, users are required to present their notification letter, IC, and ensure they have a valid Singpass account. Which requires a mobile device or digital device to sign up with. Hello?
Then again, I’ve asked my colleagues and they’ve been able to claim the vouchers with just their IC and notification letter, but I digress.
More recently, DBS bank has launched the DBS 5 Million Hawker Meals initiative, which includes a programme that offers a cash rebate of up to $3 on Fridays using the DBS Paylah app.
Under the initiative, the bank will also partner with government and grassroots organisations to hold digital literacy workshops to ensure that the less tech-savvy can access the subsidy.
There’ll even be monetary incentives for the elderly to pick up digital skills.
Are Current Solutions Enough?
Ok, so we know that the government and other relevant organisations are trying their best to educate seniors and help them adapt to the digitalisation of the world.
As the saying goes, “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime”
But what if fishing rods are expensive and extremely cumbersome to use?
This is the problem that really needs to be addressed, alongside the continued efforts of education.
For one, the user interface needs to be senior-friendly. This means, larger fonts and buttons for keypads, larger input areas and the like. Perhaps these settings also need to be senior-focused by default so they don’t have to fiddle around to make things larger while more digitally-savvy folks like us can easily tweak the settings to our liking.
Secondly, Singapore desperately needs a standardisation of digital payment services for the sake of seniors and the rest of us. At present, there are so many freaking payment methods!
Even some cashiers themselves are unsure of the digital payment methods that they offer. Imagine the anxiety that seniors would need to go through just to navigate to their Paylah! app for example to scan the QR code, which may not even be the right one since there are so many!
Thirdly, the user interfaces of various apps in Singapore may also need to be standardised. One common complaint I encounter online is that for payment services such as GrabPay, the decimal point is auto-included while others such as DBS Paylah! are not.
If you are used to paying with one, a simple mistake could cause you to pay hundreds or even thousands extra, like the case of the Ban Mian patron.
Ultimately, while digital payments are the way moving forward, we do not want to leave the disadvantaged behind.
However, there needs to be more done not just in educating seniors on how to use mobile devices and applications, but also in ironing out the kinks of digital payment services to ensure that digital rebates and vouchers are easily accessed by the ones who need them most.
What are your thoughts about the digital divide? What more can Singapore do to help the disadvantaged move along with the digital era? Share with us in the comments below!