Idyllic Malaysian fishing village rolls out Visit Sekinchan 2023, where cash is optional

  • With encouragement from PayNet, Hong Leong Bank enables cashless kampung
  • Eye opener for HLB, realisation of need to be on ground when promoting digital

A micro SME at the Sekinchan morning market enjoying media attention of his business offering customers digital payment as an option.

[Ed note: The first subhead was edited for accuracy with PayNet replacing BNM.]

 The Visit Sekinchan 2023 campaign was officiated on Saturday by Ng Suee Lim, Selangor State Assemblyman of Sekinchan; Domenic Fuda, HLB Group Managing Director and CEO; and Farhan Ahmad, Group CEO of PayNet at SMJK Yoke Kuan, a public school in the community.

The idyllic fishing village of Sekinchan, a small town in Selangor, Malaysia more famous for its high quality rice and picturesque paddy fields, has been preparing to go digital in anticipation of its Visit Sekinchan 2023 campaign.

Declaring itself to be the first cashless kampung in Malaysia, Sekinchan, population 24,000, is now ready to provide cashless convenience to locals and visitors alike, thanks to the support from Hong Leong Bank (HLB), which, in partnership with Payments Network Malaysia Sdn Bhd (PayNet), since Q2 2022, has been introducing and educating businesses on using various digital payment tools.

Ng, the Assemblyman for Sekinchan, has been a strong and vocal promoter of the push to accept digital payments, which he sees as the first step for the predominantly micro and small business owners in his constituency to gradually adopt more digital tools into their operations to lower costs, improve their efficiency and drive greater sales. “This digital adoption is the reality. It will happen,” he said.

(L2R): Ng Suee Lim, Selangor State Assemblyman of Sekinchan.and Domenic Fuda, Group Managing Director and CEO of HLB.

Domenic Fuda, Group Managing Director and CEO of HLB, said, “As a community bank, we see ourselves as the catalyst for positive change whether it’s in digital payments, online banking or sustainability in general. Part of our ESG commitments is our dedication to closing the digital gap between urban and non-urban areas, and ensuring all communities benefit from digital and financial inclusivity.”

Still Ng acknowledges that change will be hard and conversion will be slow, but eventually adoption will accelerate.

He uses himself as an example. “I was a die-hard Blackberry user and refused to entertain efforts to get me to try touch-screen phones,” he recalls. But frequent issues with his ageing Blackberry finally convinced him to try a touchscreen phone. “I never went back after that,” he said.

He is confident that with a number of Sekinchan businesses already willing to try digital payments, coupled with the rising number of digitally-savyy city slickers and China tourists who favor businesses that offer digital payments, will open the eyes of the laggards to the lost business opportunities if they remain loyal to cash payments only.


Pat on the back for Bank Negara Malaysia

A vendor at Pantai Redang who wants to go fully digital but cannot as his customers are not rteady.

The background to the Sekinchan cashless push happened in 2019 when Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) called a meeting and encouraged banks to partner with a small town or village to help transform it, digitally. It wanted to see at least two such initiatives in the country.

The Central Bank’s request came with a specific stipulation. That the kampung or town picked had to have the potential to become famous or was an insta-famous place already.

“They wanted locations that could be easily promoted to highlight as a rural or sub-rural area in Malaysia that was adopting cashless payments and going digital,” said a banker familiar with BNM’s thinking.

HLB took up the challenge and ultimately picked Sekinchan as it met BNM’s “insta-famous” criteria. There were other factors as well. HLB has a long established branch there that gave it roots in the community and trust of the leaders. Besides the strong support from Assemblyman Ng, it also found a strong supporter in the village headman, a small business owner himself.

Despite the support from key community leaders, the going was tough for HLB execs who pounded the pavement and knocked on doors to try and convince a sceptical business community. “’This is bloody hard work,’ we used to tell each other,” said a HLB executive.

“The main challenge we faced was of a community that was comfortable and content with their way of life,” said another HLB executive.

The inertia to change was strong, with Digital News Asia, during a visit to Sekinchan last September, hearing various excuses from micro businesses. “Saya pun tak tahu apa nak cakap,” (I don’t know what to say) said a roti canai stall owner, speaking in the national language when asked if he would consider adopting cashless payments.

 A fruit operator in the same morning market said, he dealt in small payments which customers preferred to use cash, while a neighbouring stall operator said his mostly older customers preferred using cash. The assistant at a bicycle rental shrugged her shoulders, saying her boss preferred cash as the mode of payment.

Despite the preference for a fair amount of business owners to stick to the tried and tested old ways, the determination of HLB to drive change was stronger, driven by the belief that going cashless in the tourist attraction would ultimately benefits its businesses and the community.

Having seen how cashless payments can help increase sales, Fuda said, “We hope that the added convenience of being cashless will rejuvenate domestic tourism, entice foreigners to visit as well as provide an opportunity to expand business via eCommerce.”


Importance of having boots on the ground

A devotee at the temple at Sekinchan where cashless payments are now common.

One of the key observations noted by HLB was that while micro SMEs and businesses did understand the importance and convenience of providing cashless options, especially for out of town visitors, tech phobia was a clear barrier with even those keen to try cashless payments,

believing they were not “tech-savvy” enough to operate the digital tools.

This is where HLB’s “turun padang” or boots on the ground approach to observe and listen to concerns by business owners and respond by creating solutions and services and hand-holding them to boost confidence when using digital tools, made all the difference in the world.

“It was a real eye opener for us… you need to be on the ground when promoting digital,” said a senior HLB executive.

While the going has been tough, there have been some unexpected wins along the way as well. Apart from business, places of worship have also adopted cashless payment, including the famous Pantai Redang Datuk Kong Temple, well-known for its wishing tree adorned with red ribbons from temple visitors.

The management committee started offering devotees the option of making donations via DuitNow QR code from 1st Sept last year. Asked if it was difficult to get the move approved, especially from older committer members, temple chairman, Chia O Peng, tells DNA that it was the older members who supported the move, hoping it would attract donations from younger devotees while reducing risk of theft and easing the hassle of managing the donation box.

With digital payments already common for city folks in Malaysia, it is doubtful that branding Sekinchan as Malaysia’s First Cashless Kampung will increase visitor numbers to the village. But for sure, most visitors will prefer to pay digitally and just this decision will likely drive many more businesses in Sekinchan to adopt digital payments and other digital tools into their operations.

That will bring a huge smile of satisfaction to Assembleyman Ng, with HLB joining BNM is giving itself a pat on the back.

To showcase Sekinchan’s delights and support local businesses, the town is running a digital Treasure Hunt called “SekinGo”, involving 20 locations. These spots, or ‘SekinStops’, span sightseeing destinations like Pantai Redang and the Wishing Tree, to local spots like Pasar Awam Sekinchan and other hidden gems. At each ‘SekinStop’, visitors can earn SekinCoins by scanning the QR code, and win up to RM15,000 worth of prizes. The Treasure Hunt runs until 30 April.

 Temple chairman, Chia O Peng (2nd from right), says it was the older members who supported the move to offer devotees a QR code donation box.


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