Coronavirus  speeds up cash-lite agenda …as interoperability sees 31% rise in March

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Even though the coronavirus pandemic has wrecked many sectors of the economy and plunged businesses into disarray, there is a positive side of the virus as it is pushing the cash-lite agenda of the country, according to data from the Bank of Ghana.

The Summary of Economic and Financial data (May 2020 edition) shows that mobile money platform is the biggest gainer in the payment systems. The Mobile money interoperability platform, which was launched in May 2018, to make it possible to transfer and receive money from a different network operator, recorded 31.4 percent growth in March 2020 alone – the very month Ghana reported its first case of the novel virus.

Prior to this, the interoperability platform recorded a contraction of 1.6 percent and 2.5 percent in January and February respectively, indicating that most consumers were still comfortable with using hard cash for their business transactions. However, the sudden appearance of the coronavirus on March 12 automatically changed the status quo, as many, especially, the educated and elite class, resorted to cashless transactions for fear of contracting the disease through the exchange of hard cash.

The change in consumer behaviour also reflected in the number of transactions recorded on the interoperability platform. The number of transactions increased to 1,987,000 in March from 1,554,000 the previous month, a 27.8 percent growth compared to a 2 percent decline in February.

In terms of monetary value, the interoperability push recorded an all-time high value of GH¢166.3 million in March compared to the GH¢126.6 million in February. The virus also triggered mindset change among those who may have reservations about holding a mobile money account as the data further shows the number of registered mobile money accounts increased to 34.3 million in March. Prior to that, only marginal increment was recorded in new entrants between January and February (32.6 and 32.7 million respectively).

Banks and retailers’ response

Banks also responded to calls in reducing human to human interactions as much as possible while making available banking services to their customers by deploying more ATMs. The data shows 20 more ATMs were deployed in March alone compared to 4 and 12 in January and February respectively. Banks also embarked on a campaign to get their customers get used to their digital platforms such as mobile and internet banking.

Retail businesses and other services also played their part in the cash-lite agenda by increasing Point of Sale (POS) terminals by 321 in March, compared to a combined 258 deployed for the two previous months.

Outlook

It is clear that there is a bright future for the cash-lite society agenda of government considering the impact of the pandemic on payment systems in just one month alone (March). In fact, the World Bank has said that mobile money is what will drive the financial inclusion agenda of Africa, especially Ghana, as the country is the fastest growing market for this payment platform on the continent.

With the coronavirus pandemic changing consumer behaviour and how things are usually done across the world, it is therefore safe to conclude that the virus will spur the growth of cashless transactions in the country, thereby, speeding the policy of a cash-lite society.

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