Enabling a cashless society

Spence Pay is a new kid on the block in the burgeoning world of cashless payment solutions — where a smartphone application is used to perform financial transactions, either through bank transfers or linked credit cards. Aimed at small businesses like hawker and canteen stalls, Spence promises to provide the convenience of cashless payments without the need for infrastructure setup such as contactless card terminals. The NUS Enterprise-backed start-up is the brainchild of NUS Science final-year student Edmond Low.

While in Shanghai in August 2015, he was introduced to the magic of cashless mobile payment solutions. Weeks could go by with no need for physical cash on hand — he could make payments simply with his smartphone. “The simplicity and convenience of the new mode of payment was unbelievable,” he recalled. But he hit a snag when attempting to buy from a neighbourhood food stall, which was not equipped for such payment methods. He had to trek close to a kilometre to the nearest ATM and back.

“It struck me that this was exactly the case back in Singapore — small business owners do not have access to cashless payments,” he said, and thus resolved to work on a solution upon returning home.

The ‘hands-free’ experience of payment collection will allow merchants to focus on serving the customer, easing their workload and reducing stress during peak periods.

After months of conceptualisation, the team of six NUS undergraduates took part in a hackathon in September 2016, where they won the ‘Most Creative Award’. Encouraged to press on, they interviewed merchants and customers for their views on cashless payments, and started searching for grants and partners. They were awarded the ACE Start-ups Grant by SPRING Singapore in November of last year, began development in January this year and officially launched their mobile app in May.

Spence is a mobile-to-mobile payment system, with users identified by their phone numbers. Each merchant is given a QR code unique to their stalls, which allows transfers between merchant and consumer via funds saved in the Spence e-wallet. Internet banking is used for top-ups to and withdrawals from this wallet.


Four members of the Spence Pay team at Innovfest 2017: (from left) NUS Arts final-year student and Product Designer Cheryl Lim, Vashon, Edmond, and NUS Computing Year 1 student and Back-End Developer Ang Yee Chin

One of the first Spence customers is The Deck. In partnership with NUS Campus Amenities, the team has created QR codes for all 12 stalls in the NUS Arts canteen and hope to slowly move on to equipping the rest of the canteens in the University.

“The merchants at The Deck have been really supportive, and many were astonished at how simple it is to collect payments using Spence,” shared Year 3 NUS Arts student Vashon Tnee, who is also the Brand Manager of the start-up.

“The ‘hands-free’ experience of payment collection will allow merchants to focus on serving the customer, easing their workload and reducing stress during peak periods,” Edmond added. 

The team aims to eventually become a primary mode of payment for the everyday consumer. “We hope to empower their lives with this convenience at every checkout counter that the consumer visits,” Edmond, who graduates in July, shared, adding that they are currently in the midst of developing more features beyond the core payment functionality.