Fill me in
German tech giant Wirecard has officially been given the boot in Singapore. In the latest unfolding of its dramatic demise, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has ordered Wirecard to “cease their payment services in Singapore and to return all customers’ funds by 14 October 2020”, in the most recent press release declared just yesterday.
The Wirecard saga is reported to be Germany’s biggest post-war corporate fraud, and is dubbed the new “Enron of Europe”.
What is Wirecard
Wirecard is a digital payments firm from Munich, Germany. Simply put, it acts as a payment processor for electronic transactions. In Singapore, it primarily processes payments from Visa and Mastercard for merchants, and helps companies issue pre-paid cards to customers.
You can think about Wirecard this way – it provides the financial plumbing for merchants to accept credit card payments. With it, merchants can directly settle credit card transactions from a customer into their account, as the role of the payment processor is to mediate between the merchant and the financial institutions involved.
Wirecard’s biggest clients in Singapore included convenience franchise Cheers and telco Singtel for its mobile wallet Dash, ComfortDelgro, and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), where it was often used to pay at Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantries. Its services were also widely used among retailers, restaurants, and other businesses across the island.
What went wrong
Some inkling that something was wrong first appeared in a report by the Financial Times early last year. The report alleged that shady practices were being conducted in Wirecard’s Singapore office, which resulted in a police raid of the office in Pasir Panjang in February 2019.
From there, months of controversy plagued the prominent firm, as reports continued to surface of questionable accounting methods and business practices. Indications of fraudulent inflation of sales and profits of subsidiaries in Dubai and Ireland arose, as The Financial Times continued to uncover stories of suspect account irregularities.
In June 2020, the final blow to Wirecard was delivered, when it admitted to a gaping financial hole in its books following the refusal of auditor Ernst and Young (EY) to sign off on its 2019 accounts. €1.9 billion (S$3 billion) of cash, that was supposed to have been in bank accounts in the Philippines, were found to not exist.
Markus Braun, Wirecard’s CEO, resigned shortly after the shocking revelation. This was closely followed by Wirecard’s announcement to file for insolvency; Wirecard explained the decision in a two-paragraph statement to the Munich court as “due to impending insolvency and over-indebtedness”.
Why MAS decided to cease Wirecard operations
After the announcement on insolvency, Wirecard SG informed MAS that it was assessing its ability to continue supporting payment services locally. As MAS continued to closely monitor Wirecard operations, preliminary steps were taken to safeguard the interest of Singaporean customers. This included requiring Wirecard SG to keep customers’ funds in banks in Singapore, and to offer assistance to customers who needed to switch to alternative service providers.
That all changed a few days ago, with MAS noting in an official statement that it had assessed it to be in the public’s interest for Wirecard SG to cease all payment services and return all customer’s funds. This came after Wirecard SG informed MAS it was unable to continue providing payment processing services to a significant number of merchants.
How this affects me
As a customer
Most individual customers will not be affected, unless you own a prepaid credit card from Wirecard. That said, expect some disruption to payment options at some establishments across the island, as Wirecard did have a significant presence here. You might not be able to pay with your credit or debit card at some merchants, if they only had Wirecard as a payment processor.
Not to worry, however, as many of Wirecard’s major clients had backup providers in place. It was also previously reported in The Straits Times that both card associations (Visa and Mastercard) were aware of the situation and would prioritise the interests of consumers and merchants in this saga. As Mastercard said, “Our priority is ensuring people are able to continue to use their cards”.
As a merchant
If you’ve not yet made arrangements to work with an alternative payment processing service provider, MAS encourages you to do so promptly. Certain banks such as DBS, OCBC, and UOB provide merchant acquisition services (i.e. they can help you process payment as a merchant), as does NETS.
Alternative payment modes and systems available
Other forms of e-payment, such as NETS, PayNow and SGQR also continue to be available for both merchants and customers in Singapore.