Exploring Real-Time Payments Systems in APAC

Payment systems are evolving around the globe. Once considered the speediest option available, even same-day Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfers are viewed as too slow these days – this is where Real-Time Payment (RTP) systems are proving to be a true game-changer. As a recent research study indicates, the global RTP market size is estimated to reach $39.02 billion by 2025, registering a CAGR of 29.3%.

RTP solutions are being widely adopted across various industries, such as retail and e-commerce, BFSI, and IT & telecom, owing to their benefits in terms of speed, security, and transparency. Additionally, favorable government initiatives about digital payments across emerging economies, such as India, and China, are estimated to create significant opportunities for market entrants. Research indicates that of all the markets globally, the APAC region is expected to hold the largest market size and is slated to grow at the highest CAGR between 2019 and 2023.

The high growth rate can be attributed to various factors, including the adoption of advanced technologies, economic developments, an increasing rate of digitalization, and large investments by RTP solution and service providers. The driving forces for the growth of the market in APAC also include the vast population that contributes to the volume of transactions and the domestic as well as international enterprises that are investing in the region.
Banks in the APAC region are looking beyond simple implementation of RTP and adherence to national regulatory requirements; they are now focusing on increasing investments in payments modernization, with real-time capabilities serving as a foundational cornerstone of broader digital transformation.

Over the past few years, we have seen announcements about the launch of new RTP systems across APAC countries. In 2018, SWIFT held exploratory talks with banks from the Asia-Pacific region about the development of a regional cross-border real-time payments system based on the SWIFT global payment system. However, the picture across APAC is varied; some countries have a more mature and robust infrastructure that supports the scalable implementation of RTP systems, while others are in the process of setting up such infrastructure. It will be interesting to take an overview of RTP systems in some key APAC countries:


  • FAST (Fast and Secure Transfers), launched in March 2014, is the foundation for Singapore’s national RTP scheme; the introduction of PayNow in 2017 brought RTP to consumers with peer-to-peer fund transfers based on mobile numbers.
  • In 2018, PayNow Corporate further expanded to enable payments between consumers and businesses.
  • Furthermore, the emergence of SGQR (a standardized QR code that relies on the FAST infrastructure) adds further impetus to RTP in the country.


  • PayNet (Payments Network Malaysia Sdn Bhd), Malaysia’s national payments network and central infrastructure provider, launched the country’s Real-Time Retail Payments Platform (RPP).
  • Since the launch of RPP and DuitNow (instant credit transfer), PayNet has connected 30 participating banks in Malaysia, accounting for over 95% of bank account market share.
  • Transaction volumes are currently growing 50% month-on-month


  • The Philippine central bank launched InstaPay to enable real-time electronic fund transfers up to PHP50,000 per day through 20 participating institutions.
  • More banks in the country are now into real-time electronic fund transfers in support of the move to establish a safe, efficient, affordable, and reliable electronic retail payments system in the country.
  • Recent data from the Bangko Sentral Pilipinas (BSP) showed that InstaPay users making real-time electronic fund transfers worth P50,000 and below, more than doubled to 47 from only 20 since the system was launched.


  • China processed more than 25 million faster payments transactions a day in 2018, more than double its 2017 transaction volume.
  • China’s RTP system IBPS had ~8.5 billion transactions in 2017 and grew at a CAGR of 105% during 2013–2017.
  • China’s IBPS is among the more successful systems where the state (or consortium of banks) has built a universal infrastructure allowing participation from non-banking entities as well.


  • In 2017, Thailand’s leading interbank payments provider, National ITMX worked with Vocalink, a Mastercard company, to launch PromptPay, which is a real-time payments system for the Thai market.
  • Within two years of its launch, PromptPay has grown to more than 46.5 million users, with 4.5 transactions per day.
  • In total, PromptPay has moved THB 4 trillion across 800 million transactions.


  • In 2010, India launched its first real-time payments systems ‘IMPS’ (fastest-growing RTP system globally) and introduced UPI in 2016. UPI is the inter-operable infrastructure built on IMPS rails.
  • The daily transaction volume of IMPS grew from about two million per day in 2017 to approximately 2.8 million per day in 2018.
  • In 2018, India’s IMPS recorded over 1.5 billion transactions at a YoY growth of 52%. UPI recorded 790% in YoY growth in 2017–2018 and clocked over 3.7 billion transactions in 2018.


  • Indonesia’s central bank has rolled out a standard quick-response (QR) code for cashless payments.
  • Through the Quick Response Indonesia Standard (QRIS) code, users can conduct fund transfers between local payment services.
  • Bank Indonesia has teamed up with banks and financial institutions, among others, to develop the new code.

Challenges for RTP Adoption in APAC

While countries like India and China, for example, have robust infrastructures for RTP and are considered among the more mature countries when it comes to real-time payments, challenges remain for RTP adoption in the region. Moving forward, as speed and agility would be two critical factors driving success, some factors that stand in the way of scaling RTP across APAC include:

  • One-off investment costs and ongoing costs
  • The cost of a fragmented landscape
  • Uncertain revenue potential

While many successful RTPs solutions have flourished, there remains a critical lack of a uniform, comprehensive infrastructure, and alleviating this will require countries to set up their own domestic infrastructure at a significant cost – estimates suggest it can range from $50 million to $1 billion.

To solve these issues and enable RTP transactions to fully materialize in Asia in a systematic, scalable, and robust manner, banks and payments providers need to evolve their processes and technologies. However, completely replacing the IT systems of a large financial institution to enable API-based, real-time payment-enabled services is often costly and disruptive. Banks and payments providers should, therefore, look to payments hub software to integrate new technologies with legacy systems.

This is where players like Mastercard come in. BancNet, the national clearing switch operator for InstaPay (a real-time retail payments system in the Philippines), will tap into Mastercard’s expertise and the next-generation real-time payments technology of Vocalink (a Mastercard company) to provide InstaPay users with improved services, better data capabilities, and stronger security features. This partnership will enable BancNet to leapfrog several generations of payments technology and bring the country to the forefront of state-of-the-art innovations in account-based real-time payments.

According to Ari Sarker, Co-President at Mastercard – Asia-Pacific, “Mastercard has enduring partnerships with governments and companies in the region and is committed to helping them realize their digital ambitions, enabling connected commerce for everyone. The Philippines has a growing tech-savvy population, a flourishing digital economy, and access to an increasingly integrated regional trading network, all of which fuel a wide range of opportunities for digital transformation. Mastercard is excited to be a trusted partner in supporting the government’s vision of driving financial inclusion for the Philippines by accelerating digitalization.”

Mastercard will operate the infrastructure through a regional payments hub in APAC, using the rich ISO 20022 messaging format, which streamlines communications across financial institutions, provides enhanced transaction data for mitigating risk, and facilitates compliance with regulatory requirements, among other purposes. This initiative will support Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the payments industry’s shared vision of accelerating digital payments to 20% of all payment transactions in the country by 2020.

The challenges to scaling RTP successfully in APAC are not insignificant. Nevertheless, future expectations run high, with a global ACI survey showing that an overwhelming percentage of respondents saying that RTP will increase revenue (82%) and reduce costs (77%). The respondents said they are looking toward further innovation through open APIs, which are perceived as a clear benefit by 90% banks globally and 88% across Asia.