DBS, Citi outages in Singapore: Gen Zs reflect on the day cashless failed

Gen Zs in Singapore shared some of the challenges they faced over Saturday's bank service disruption, and how they will prepare for similar situations next time.

DBS/POSB ATM and Gen Z girl in distress over banking services disruption in Singapore
DBS/POSB disruption in Singapore: How Gen Zs dealt with the glitch (Photos: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE - Last Saturday (14 October) saw many Singaporeans scramble with challenges as online banking and payment services from DBS, Citibank, and selected ATMs, were down for hours. In a highly cashless society like Singapore, this meant unforeseen frustration for many.

From paying for food to tapping on public transport, contactless payment are regularly used by many, especially in the younger generation. How did the outage impact local Gen Zs, how did they cope with the ordeal, and what did they do to get through it?

Yahoo Southeast Asia reached out to some Gen Zs who underwent personal obstacles over the disruptions.

Couldn't pay for Grab ride or buy sanitary pads while on period

The outage of DBS and Citi's banking services "kind of ruined" 17-year-old Amelia's Saturday.

She had booked a Grab ride from at around 3 to 4pm, only to realise later that she was unable to pay for the ride.

As the QR code had failed to scan, the Grab driver was "quite angry", but later understood after Amelia explained the situation. She managed to transfer her Grab fare to the driver the next day.

After arriving at her boyfriend's home, her period unexpectedly came later at around 7pm. However, she was unable to purchase any sanitary pads as neither she, her boyfriend, nor his mother had any physical cash on hand.

Purchasing the pads through online platforms was not an option either, given that all three parties only had DBS or POSB bank accounts. "I was having a very sudden flow (of blood). I actually broke down because I was so stressed."

Mad about the situation, Amelia sent a complaint message to DBS, and considered closing her bank account to switch to another bank. Her reason stemmed from the fact that DBS and POSB had experienced at least three banking service disruptions in the past two years.

She also tried contacting her sister, who was unable to help, as she was stranded in Bukit Batok.

"I didn't want to leave the house, as I was wearing an off-white shirt at the point of time, and was scared the blood would be everywhere. I chose to be safe and stayed at my boyfriend's place."

For dinner, Amelia and her boyfriend ended up sharing two packets of instant noodles. She eventually got home between 10 to 11pm, after seeking help from her aunt, who booked Amelia a Grab ride home using an OCBC card.

"I'm not going to leave the house cashless anymore," she said. As of Monday (16 October) afternoon, Amelia said she had yet to receive a response from DBS.

Left with only $1, hair cut deferred, and settled for home cooked pasta dinner

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Thorsten Ng had his plans for a haircut thwarted, at around 5pm on Saturday.

He only discovered digital and banking payment services were down when he attempted to make payment via an app, before realising the transaction was unable to go through.

The full-time national serviceman (NSF) assumed it was an issue with the internet or his phone, and restarted his phone. It was only after he did a Google search, did he read about the news.

As the nearest ATM was also out of service, he was unable to get his hair cut.

Checking his wallet, he realised he only had $1 in physical cash. He had also used up his Grab credits for a lunch order earlier that afternoon, and was unable to get dinner for himself.

"At that point, I was a bit worried. I live with my mom, and she was away in Malaysia. We largely eat healthy, so we don't have instant food at home."

Fortunately, upon arriving home, he managed to find some pasta and a can of pasta sauce, which he cooked for dinner.

"It was scary at first because I didn't know how long I was going to be out of money. I was also a bit concerned about whether the outage will be fixed by Sunday morning as I usually attend church. I have to eat breakfast, and take public transport to church."

Ng stayed home for the rest of Saturday night, filming TikTok videos to distract himself. One video has since gone viral, accumulating over 177,000 views.

"I always say that TikTok is my coping mechanisms, so I guess it worked."

Ng managed to get his hair cut on Sunday.

Break time panic, gracious strangers

Hannah Haziqah, 19, was visiting the nearby 7-11 at around 4pm to get food when her Apple Pay transaction did not go through.

The ITE College East student was working as a one-day promoter for a local beverage brand at a warehouse in Giant Hypermarket Tampines.

Assuming it was an issue with Apple Pay, she went back to grab her wallet, only to realise she had no cash on hand, and NETS was not working as well. She spent half of her hour-long break trying to figure out what to do.

"I was confused and irritated. I did not understand what was going on. It was just very sudden," she said.

Thankfully, she recalled she had another bank account fifteen minutes later, and was able to pay for a sandwich and drink, after calling her mother to transfer some money into that account.

Nureesha Zainal Abidin was also out on a break to buy cup noodles at a convenient store in Marina Square, at around 3 to 4pm on Saturday, when she realised her Visa payWave was not working.

The 19-year-old also had no physical cash, and was informed that the nearby ATM was defective.

"I was panicking, and was quite hungry as I did not bring food along for my shift."

Luckily, a lady standing behind her in line graciously offered to pay for Nureesha's cup noodles.

"I am very grateful. She was just a stranger," she said.

Reliance on digital banking and payment services

Following the latest incident, the Gen-Zs Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke to agreed they would take a minimum of $5 to a maximum of $100 in physical cash when they leave the house.

However, they would still rely largely on online banking and digital payment services for purchases.

"The thought is that I don't need cash anywhere I go these days because of how prevalent the online banking system and payments are in Singapore," said Sandra, 23.

During weekday lunches with her colleagues, she typically only carries her phone. Sandra also pointed out that some hawker centres are "completely cashless" these days.

Reflecting on last Saturday's outage, she suggests carrying different cards when going out.

"I think it makes you question the reliability of things. We always think banks are extremely reliable, but you need to also have second options or alternatives in mind if situations like these happen."

*Some names have been changed upon request.

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