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TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Terence Zou

Circuit Breaker: the perfect time to innovate

BY TERENCE ZOU

The past few months have been hard for all of us, especially in the ride-hailing sector, but it has also offered opportunities.

COVID-19 and the accompanying movement restrictions have brought much of Singapore’s economy to a halt, forcing us all inside and closing many bars, restaurants and businesses that we had previously taken for granted.

However, there have been a few developments over the past few months that have given us cause for optimism. Firstly, like you I have become more dependent on the internet not only to run my company but to run my life as well. I have begun ordering my groceries online, purchasing gifts for friends online and communicating with my family via FaceTime and Zoom.

The Circuit Breaker has accelerated our move online and has forced us to use and trust digital payments which are now becoming second nature. This has the twin benefits of simply being easier (we have seen a 25% increase in digital payments) and safer, requiring less physical contact than cash and thus less chance of spreading the virus. The government has also noticed this and in the latest Fortitude Budget they are providing S$500 million to support digitisation adoption amongst local F&B and retail firms.

Amongst other things this means we will soon be paying for our Nasi Lemak and Mee Goreng at Hawker Centres via debit cards or our phones. Cash will be used less and less especially given that the elderly are beginning to get more used to digital payments now, again partly thanks to circuit Breaker restrictions which have pushed them online.

Secondly, we have seen many firms take this period to improve themselves and innovate. For us, this has meant finding alternative avenues to generate revenues such as providing food delivery and peer-to-peer courier services that have increased in demand over the past few months. Home businesses and restaurants use on-demand services to get their products quickly to their customers without paying high platform fees. People also use courier services to send documents or care packages quickly as they prefer not to step out of their homes.

But this period has also allowed us to take a step back and really think about our industry and how we can develop technologies and solutions that will move the sector forward once Singaporeans start travelling again. How will rider and driver behaviour change? What are the long-term trends that will be accelerated due to the pandemic?

As I mentioned earlier digital payment trends have developed and looking ahead, we see even more disruption in this space, especially with the continuing adoption of Blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies. Today, many of us can pay via the tap of our card or our phones but tomorrow could be a completely new technology.

I foresee sustainability to become more front and centre in people’s minds as the effects of Climate Change become more apparent and the collapse in oil prices which have revealed our dependence on foreign-sourced fossil fuels. This will necessitate moves towards zero carbon transportation which we need to be actively working towards - carpooling reduces the need to own cars and reduces CO2 emissions. We need to proactively push for electric charging ecosystems and regulations that allow us to introduce and use electric vehicles on a mass scale.

Autonomous vehicles – forever a technology that has been ‘twenty years in the future’ – may emerge at some point in the future and we need to think about what this means for drivers who depend on driving for their income as well as the business models that can support these vehicles. We will need to think hard about insurance and structures for dealing with the ethical issues of ‘who is responsible’ should an accident be caused by these autonomous vehicles.

Lastly, whilst ride hailing firms are perceived to be consumer companies, we have seen how businesses have relied on our services during the pandemic. I foresee more diversification in the industry with business models that include both consumer transportation, on-demand delivery and logistics services.

These are just some of the trends that the Circuit Breaker period has allowed us to think about and innovate towards. We haven’t spent the past two months hibernating, rather we will soon be announcing a new technology that we hope will take us a bit quicker into the future. I expect June and July to be a busy month for news as innovative, forward-looking Singaporean firms announce the fruits of their Circuit Breaker labour. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Terence Zou

Terence Zou

Terence Zou is the Founder and CEO of Ryde Technologies. Graduated from Harvard Business School, Terence has over 10 years of experience in finance. He started his career in the Navy where he eventually commanded a warship. Terence worked in investment banking and private equity. Terence has also been passionate about teaching and sharing his experience with others. He taught finance and economics at various institutions including the National University of Singapore, Murdoch University and SIM University.

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