Real-time payments are transactions made between bank accounts, processed, cleared, and settled within seconds, o any given day or time. The FIS Global Payments Report 2023 highlights the Asia Pacific region as a global frontrunner in real-time payments, propelling account-to-account (A2A) payments and international trade.
Currently, over 70 countries across six continents offer real-time payments, with a transaction volume of US$195 billion in 2022 — a 63% growth year-on-year, as per ACI Worldwide’s March 2023 report. Markets in Asia, generally quick to embrace financial innovations like real-time payments, are leading the charge to enhance their global commerce standing.
India, having introduced its rapidly expanding Unified Payments Interface (UPI) real-time payments system in 2016, dominates the market with US$89.5 billion in transactions, not only in Asia but worldwide, alongside nations like China, Thailand, and South Korea.
Delayed payments can amount to as much as US$3 trillion globally, states Mastercard. This impacts small businesses, which are prevalent in Asia – a vital concern that real-time payments can alleviate.
In developing regions like Asia, some countries are modernising payments alongside fintech-driven advancements, aiming for broader financial inclusion. Alongside real-time payments, Thailand’s PromptPay allows citizens to transact using their phone number, national ID, or QR code, thus connecting more unbanked individuals to the financial sector.
The FIS Global Payments Report 2023 emphasises that with declining cash usage in Asia and the growth of digital alternatives such as e-wallets and BNPL schemes, Asia is uniquely positioned to leverage innovations in real-time payments. This includes supporting digital shopping and facilitating international transactions at an increasing number of consumer and business touchpoints, due to the growing interconnectedness of real-time payment systems across various Asian countries.
Here’s a list of 12 major Asian markets with real-time payment networks, showcasing their significant growth and setting the course for a future of safe, instant transactions.
IBPS FPS (Fast Payment System) structure. Source: World Bank FPS China IBPS Case Study [pdf]
Real-time payments in China occur within the Internet Banking Payment System (IBPS). Managed by the People’s Bank of China, IBPS was launched in 2010 under the Second Generation of China National Advanced Payment System (CNAPS II). It supports lower-value, real-time interbank transactions for consumers, while a separate system (High Value Payment System, HVPS) handles business transactions. The China National Clearing Centre (CNCC) operates the IBPS.
The World Bank states that IBPS uses mobile numbers as identifiers, is available 24/7/365, and complies with the ISO 20022 messaging standard. Transactions are settled through a Deferred Net settlement method, and IBPS covers various payment types including NFC and QR codes.
In 2021, China saw over 18 billion real-time payment transactions, only behind India in global real-time payment adoption.
Hong Kong’s Faster Payment System (FPS), managed by Hong Kong Interbank Clearing Limited (HKICL), facilitates real-time payments. Introduced in September 2018, FPS is accessible to all banks and digital wallet providers in Hong Kong, offering 24/7/365 payment services via banking apps and digital wallets using just a phone number or email.
FPS provides various services like QR code interoperability and government bill payments. Payments can be processed in both Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) and Renminbi (RMB).
In April 2022, FPS exceeded 10 million registered users. This growth was propelled by the pandemic, with about six million users registering with FPS since its onset.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) is exploring a partnership with Thailand’s central bank to enhance compatibility between Hong Kong’s FPS and Thailand’s PromptPay, facilitating smooth cross-border payments for e-commerce and tourists.
India offers two real-time payment services, both managed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) in collaboration with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI): the Immediate Payment Service (IMPS) introduced in 2010 and the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) launched in 2016. UPI is a rising powerhouse in payment innovation in India and beyond.
UPI facilitates instant fund transfers via mobile devices 24/7/365, with single-click, two-factor authentication using a secure virtual ID. Payments can be made through the NPCI’s Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) app, banking apps, or popular digital wallets. UPI is experiencing exponential growth, with transaction volumes rising from 2.2 billion in December 2020 to 7.8 billion in December 2022.
In January 2023, NPCI announced the availability of UPI for Indian non-residents in ten countries, including the UK, aiming to create a global remittance network. UPI is gaining traction in other countries such as Bhutan and Nepal, and is also integrating with payment systems in countries like Singapore and the UAE. In January 2023, the Indian government declared an additional investment of US$320 million to promote UPI and its domestic card scheme, RuPay.
In Indonesia, real-time payments are processed via the BI-FAST system, managed by Bank Indonesia, Indonesia’s central bank. Introduced in 2021, BI-FAST is a pivotal component in Indonesia’s digital transformation within its Payment System Blueprint, IPS 2025.
The first phase of BI-FAST launched in December 2021 focuses on individual credit transfer services. The system offers real-time notifications and operates using proxy addresses (mobile phone number, residence number, and email address).
Future plans for BI-FAST include expanding services to include bulk credit, direct debit, and payment request services. There’s also a proposal for a unified integrated payment interface connecting all payment instruments and channels (e.g. QR codes and digital wallets) and directing transactions to backend infrastructures.
In Japan, real-time payments are facilitated through the Zengin, overseen by the Japanese Banks’ Payment Clearing Network. Established in 1973, Zengin stands as the eldest real-time payment mechanism covered in GPR 2023. Even at 50 years, Zengin persists as the platform for intrabank exchanges amongst Japanese financial entities. Its age implies certain inherent limitations, hindering the capture of many contemporary system benefits, especially for consumers.
In 2018, the Japanese Bankers Association coupled with Zengin-Net to unveil the “more time system,” which offers 24/7 service. Zengin’s seventh version emerged in 2019, boasting improvements in capacity, security, and reliability.
There’s ongoing discussion for Zengin to incorporate consumer-centric features. As of September 2022, Zengin-Net proclaimed their intent to extend the real-time payment system to mobile payment service providers, such as PayPay and LINE Pay.
Malaysia’s real-time payment platform, DuitNow, is managed by Malaysia’s national payment framework, PayNet. Prominent Malaysian bank payment systems, including Public Bank, CIMB and Maybank Malaysia, along with notable fintechs like Touch ‘n Go and Boost, employ DuitNow. It has spurred account-to-account (A2A) transactions and spearheads e-commerce payments in Malaysia, claiming 37% of e-commerce transaction worth in 2022.
DuitNow is meshing with neighbouring real-time payments infrastructures in Southeast Asia to champion cross-border transfers and stimulate regional growth via fluid interoperable payments. In June 2021, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and Bank of Thailand (BoT) agreed a cross-border compatibility arrangement between DuitNow and Thailand’s PromptPay. BNM and Singapore’s Monetary Authority (MAS) then disclosed a tiered integration of DuitNow with Singapore’s PayNow, commencing in Q4 2022.
In July 2022, leaders of five ASEAN central banks (from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand) pledged to foster inclusive interoperability amongst their real-time payment systems, aiming for regional economic resurgence.
The Philippines utilises InstaPay for real-time payments. Operational since 2018 under BancNet’s oversight, InstaPay’s transactional volume and value skyrocketed post-pandemic. Between November 2019 and 2022, both metrics surged ten-fold.
In 2020, the Philippines central bank BSP released the Digital Payments Transformation Roadmap spanning 2020-2023. Key goals are to digitise half of the retail payment volume and escalate financial inclusivity to 70% of Filipino adults. InstaPay and PESONet, another interbank transfer service, stand at the forefront of this transformation with combined transactions over their networks surpassing PHP 5.37 trillion by July 2022.
Together with the Bank for International Settlements, the BSP aspires to connect InstaPay with other Asian real-time payment systems. Named Project Nexus, this endeavour aims to facilitate fluid cross-border transactions among InstaPay, Singapore’s PayNow, and Malaysia’s DuitNow.
Introduced in 2014, Fast and Secure Transfers (FAST) offers nearly immediate transfers of Singapore dollars among 24 principal bank account holders in the region. As of February 2021, six non-bank financial establishments gained FAST access: GrabPay, LiquidPay, MatchMove, Razer, Singtel Dash, and Wise.
Debuted in 2017 for banks and 2021 for non-bank financial institutions, PayNow operates atop the FAST payment mechanism, permitting almost instantaneous transactions among ten banks and four non-bank financial establishments. Senders merely need the recipient’s mobile number. PayNow Corporate facilitates instant transactions for corporate and governmental bodies.
Singapore’s Monetary Authority (MAS) and India’s Reserve Bank (RBI) broadcasted plans to interlink their rapid payment systems, UPI and PayNow, which went live in 2023.
South Korea boasts one of the earliest real-time payments infrastructures in Asia. The Interbank CD/ATM mechanism, established in 1988, remains operational — albeit with diminishing usage. In the fintech era, the Electronic Banking System (EBS) came into existence in 2001, with both platforms being managed by the Korea Financial Telecommunications and Clearing Institute (KFTC).
In December 2019, KFTC initiated an open API portal to enhance real-time payment solutions. These APIs now cater to a range of services, including identification and transaction queries.
In July 2021, South Korea’s payment overseer, Financial Services Commission (FSC), declared an expansion of open banking opportunities for fintech platforms. Per FSC, an initial group of 23 fintech firms, encompassing Kakao and Naver, integrated into the platform, with an additional four the next month.
Real-time payments in Taiwan are conducted by the Taiwan Clearing House (TCH), operated by Taiwan’s central bank, the Central Bank of the Republic of China. Launched in 2019, Taiwan’s real-time payment system is known as the Taiwan Clearing House Money Exchange and Clearing System (TCH MECS).
TCH MECS offers same-day fund transfers for individuals and corporations up to a maximum of TW$3 million. The value of payment transactions processed through TCH MECS has seen tremendous growth since the onset of the pandemic: between November 2019 and November 2022, both payment volume and transaction value increased at least ten-fold.
Taiwan’s FSC is collaborating with the central bank on a digital transformation roadmap. The goal is to expand the TCH MECS real-time payment system to include other market participants, including fintechs.
Thailand boasts one of the globe’s most expansive and successful real-time payment infrastructures with PromptPay. Introduced in 2017 by National ITMX and the Thai Bankers’ Association, PromptPay facilitates real-time transfers between account owners using AnyID, a versatile platform accommodating ID and account numbers for verification. PromptPay can be accessed at cash machines, bank outlets, customer service lines, digital wallets, online banking sites, and mobile banking applications.
Only in September 2022, PromptPay managed 1.4 billion transactions amounting to over 3.6 trillion Baht, roughly US$11.6 billion. PromptPay caters to a wide spectrum of payment applications and added services: e-commerce transactions, payment requests, universal QR code for mobile payments at trader sites, recipient confirmation, business transactions, and tax rebates.
In April 2021, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) alongside Bank of Thailand (BoT) declared a successful linkage of PromptPay with Singapore’s PayNow. The BoT is examining further international operability linking PromptPay to Malaysia’s DuitNow and India’s UPI real-time payment systems.
Real-time payments in Vietnam occur through the NAPAS Quick Money Transfer (Chuyển tiền nhanh) Service, initiated in 2016 by The National Payment Corporation of Vietnam (NAPAS).
NAPAS is persistently broadening its QR code network, NAPAS 247 Quick Money Transfer Service. Established in 2021 with 14 banks, the network grew to 40 banks and over three million users by 2022. Thai tourists can also transact via VietQR code, due to a mutual arrangement between NAPAS and Thailand’s electronic payment network, ITMX.
In January 2023, NAPAS proclaimed that electronic transactions via its platforms doubled in 2022 compared to 2021. The NAPAS chief director remarked that the Quick Money Transfer real-time payment method had witnessed “noteworthy expansion.”