National campaign to minimise cash transactions

The national campaign to minimise cash transactions was launched on 14 March 1985 to urge Singaporeans to carry out financial transactions electronically.1 The drive to bring Singapore closer to a cashless society was part of the government’s plan to improve efficiency in processing payments. The government had aimed to make cashless transactions a way of life for Singaporeans by 1987.2

Background and objectives
It was estimated that the government would save S$24.5 million in terms of labour cost if cash transactions were minimised.3 The three-month campaign had three goals: to encourage Singaporeans to receive salaries via direct credit to their bank accounts, to persuade them to pay their bills electronically via the General Interbank Recurring Order (GIRO), and to promote payment through the Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFTPOS).4

In January 1984, a 17-member committee was set up to carry out the S$250,000 campaign. Led by then Head of Civil Service Andrew Chew, the task force comprised representatives from the government, employer associations, banks and the National Trades Union Congress.5

The campaign was launched at the Singapore Conference Hall on 14 March 1985.6 In conjunction with the launch, a four-day exhibition was held at the venue to highlight the benefits of a range of electronic banking services.7 Members of the public were educated about these services and the use of automated teller machines (ATMs) through videos, demonstrations and hands-on exhibits provided by various organisations, mainly banks and computer companies.Mobile exhibitions were also set up at People’s Park Centre and Parkway Parade to raise awareness on cashless transactions.9

During the campaign, there were advertisements on television, radio, Rediffusion, cinemas and public buses. Workers also received letters and brochures promoting the conveniences of cashless paydays. In addition, a hotline was set up by the Ministry of Finance to answer public queries.10

Cashless paydays
At the start of the campaign, only 51 percent of employees’ salaries in Singapore were paid through direct credit into bank accounts.11 The government aimed to increase participation in cashless paydays to at least 70 percent of salaried workers, by urging the private sector to follow suit. To this end, 2,000 letters were sent to employers encouraging them to pay salaries via bank accounts instead of cash.12 The Housing and Development Board also relaxed its rule on the location of ATMs, so that more machines could be added to meet the increased demand.13 In line with the campaign, in 1985 the Commercial and Industrial Security Corporation ended its service of counting and placing cash salaries into individual packets for distribution.14

To ensure the smooth implementation of cashless paydays, employers were encouraged to stagger paydays, so that demand for bank services could be distributed more evenly.15 Circulars were sent to the permanent secretaries of government departments, urging them to step up training on the use of ATMs for daily-rated employees.16

General Interbank Recurring Order
The campaign also encouraged the public to pay their bills through GIRO. It was reported in September 1985 that out of 40 million payments made to the government, only seven million of them were made in cheques and five million through GIRO.17 To encourage more people to use GIRO, the government phased out the 20 multi-revenue collection scheme centres that were collecting government dues in cash. These transactions included payments for income and property taxes, utility and telephone bills, and penalties for traffic offences.18

Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale
The most challenging part of the campaign was the implementation of EFTPOS – a mode of cashless transaction in which shoppers paid for purchases and bills with an ATM card.19

In June 1985, 10,000 people and 39 retail outlets participated in a pilot EFTPOS scheme. The scheme was run by the Network for Electronic Transfers (S) Pte Ltd, a company formed by five of the largest banks in Singapore at the time: Development Bank of Singapore, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, Overseas Union Bank, United Overseas Bank and Post Office Savings Bank.20 Retailers participating in the pilot scheme included BataC. K. TangCold Storage, Fitzpatrick’s, John LittleMetro Golden Mile, NTUC Fairprice, Oriental Emporium, Printemps, Times Publishing, Yaohan, Denny’s restaurant, and petrol companies such as British Petroleum, Caltex, Esso, Mobil, Shell and Singapore Petroleum Company, as well as selected government departments like the Immigration Office at Joo Chiat Complex, Public Utilities BoardTelecoms and Toa Payoh Hospital. In addition, participants could pay for season bus passes at Ang Mo KioBedok, Jurong East and Toa Payoh bus interchanges.21

On 17 January 1986, EFTPOS was officially launched for the 1.1 million ATM cardholders in Singapore.22 In December 1988, The Straits Times reported that the five banks had issued 1.8 million ATM cards to some 1.2 million customers, with 4.5 million transactions made between January and November 1988, compared to 3.6 million for the whole of 1987.23


Marsita Omar

1. “Drive towards a Cashless Society,” Singapore Monitor, 12 March 1985, 6; Government Steps Up Efforts to Minimise Cash Transactions,” Business Times, 13 March 1985, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
2. S. Kumar, “Publicity Blitz for Cashless Payments,” Straits Times, 29 October 1985, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Minimising Cash Transactions Will Save Government $24.5m,” Business Times, 30 March 1985, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “$250,000 Campaign in March,” Straits Times, 5 January 1985, 15; Anne Koh, “Multi-Revenue Collection Centres to Go,” Straits Times, 13 March 1985, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Towards Faster and Safer Transactions,” Straits Times, 14 March 1985, 5; Koh, “Multi-Revenue Collection Centres to Go.”
6. Lee Yock Suan, “The Launching of the National Campaign to Minimise Cash Transactions, speech, Singapore Conference Hall, 14 March 1985, transcript, Ministry of Communications and Information (1985–1990). (From National Archives of Singapore document no. lys19850314s)
7. “Drive towards a Cashless Society.”
8.  Anne Koh, “Giro Users to Get Rebates,” Straits Times, 15 March 1985, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9.  Lim Soon Neo, “Campaign to Bring Singapore Closer to Cashless Society,” Business Times, 8 March 1985, 2 (From NewspaperSG); “Drive towards a Cashless Society”; Koh, “Multi-Revenue Collection Centres to Go.”
10. Lim, “Singapore Closer to Cashless Society”; “Drive towards a Cashless Society”; Koh, “Multi-Revenue Collection Centres to Go.”
11.  Koh, “Multi-Revenue Collection Centres to Go.”
12.  “Government Steps Up Efforts”; Anne Koh, “Govt Takes the Lead in Cashless Drive,” Straits Times, 14 August 1985, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Towards Faster and Safer Transactions.” 
14. Carolyn Lee, “Cisco Halting Pay-Packet Service,” Singapore Monitor, 31 May 1985, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Plan to Stagger All Paydays by ’85,” Singapore Monitor, 13 November 1984, 4 (From NewspaperSG); “Towards Faster and Safer Transactions.” 
16.  Koh, “Govt Takes the Lead in Cashless Drive”; Lim, “Singapore Closer to Cashless Society.”
17.  Anne Koh, “$500,000 blitz to boost Giro,” Straits Times, 10 September 1985, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “Government Steps Up Efforts”; Koh, “Multi-Revenue Collection Centres to Go.”
19. Ho Chin Beng, “Pilot Run Still on Trial,” Straits Times, 12 November 1985, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Ho, “Pilot Run Still on Trial.” 
21. “Singaporeans to Put Cashless Shopping to the Test Today,” Business Times, 27 June 1985, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Amy Balan, “EFTPOS Aims for One Million Users,” Business Times, 20 April 1985, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Leong Wen Wah, “NETS Promotes Cashless Shopping with Draws,” Business Times, 10 December 1988, 4. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resource
Management Services Dept., Ministry of Finance, You and Your Bank: A Guide on Cashless Transactions (Singapore: The Dept, 1985). (Call no. RSING 332.12095957 YOU)

The information in this article is valid as at December 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.



National campaigns
Cash transactions--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Management>>Financial management>>Cash management
Minimise Cash Transactions Campaign, Singapore, 1985-1987
Electronic funds transfers--Singapore
Events>>National Campaigns