Malaysia way ahead of US in fintech

Credit card

I recently visited Malaysia as part of my pilgrimage to see friends and family, as well as to load up on food, of course.

Every trip back reminds me of how old my parents are getting, how successful my friends are becoming and how Malaysian politics is as divisive as ever.

But this particular trip was an eye-opening one – Malaysia has definitely moved way ahead in the fintech (finance technology) sector.

There I was with friends and they were all just whipping out their phones to use their Grab pay and e-wallets, tapping their Wave credit cards and using the QR code scanners.

Back here in the good ol’ USA, I use my chip credit card and sign the receipts. So when I paid for things in Malaysia, retailers would go, “Wave, e-wallet?”. My response was a sheepish, “Uh no. It’s chip and signature”. Bet they’ve not seen one of these artefacts in a while.

Needless to say, I was extremely impressed with the payment options in Malaysia. The reason why the US has not picked up mobile wallet payment methods is because there is a general lack of user pick-up.

Most people don’t see mobile wallets as convenient because they already have to carry their driver’s licence ergo bring along credit cards and cash for tipping.

Plus, not all merchants offer this option, so one will still have to bring along credit cards just in case. And lastly, credit cards have points, cash back and mileage programmes and those are easily understood.

When I was using Grab in Malaysia, I could only redeem things at what – 600 points – meaning I had to spend RM600 through Grab or use the multipliers or become some Gold member to get more points?

Nope, all that is too much brain damage for the average American. We like to have things fast, direct and idiot-proof. We also want it quick which is why Amazon’s two-day shipping service has spoiled us all.

The notion of saving money must be really worth my time, otherwise I would just pay the extra and chalk it up as the business cost of convenience.

There is a reason why US household debt was a whopping US$14.15 trillion as at end of 2019.

Credit cards, auto debt and student loans plus the US commercial culture of “you have got to own this!” has driven many to bankruptcy.

Targeted marketing here and focus-group driven messages can be persuasive to the unknowing.

The adage to “live within your means” holds true everywhere. Don’t own what you can’t pay for, don’t buy what you don’t need.

Anyway, back to Malaysia – I was around to see the government dole out RM30 to every qualifying person as an encouragement to use e-wallets.

It’s taxpayer-funded so I hope everyone got theirs. I thought it was a populist move because everyone would agree to free money.

It also made me question – so how is Malaysia’s national debt doing?

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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