Cashless Policy Will Reduce Cost of Doing Business in Nigeria

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Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria

With the sensitisation by the Electronic Payment Providers Association of Nigeria (EPPAN), to the cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Interswitch’s Executive Director for Payment and Solutions, Mr Charles Ifedi, in this interview with CHIMA AKWAJA, said the awareness barrier would be broken by the initiative

What are your views on cashless society?

Cashless society has been on for few months now, and the CBN has declared its focus to reduce the amount of cash in the economy as well as reduce the cost of doing business in Nigeria. This policy has started now in Lagos and the main focus has been how to roll out point of sale (PoS) terminals. There are many POS terminals that can help people do their transactions.

Again, cashless policy will also see various players introduce mobile payment solutions, internet payment solution and other payment solutions that will make it more efficient for people to transact business. Already you can notice that various banks have upgraded their internet services, which they were not able to provide before because the new service will make it possible for customers to basically interact with their bank accounts, transfer money from one person to another, from one bank to another, make payment through internet and a whole lot more.

In fact, the entire objective is to create efficiency around electronic payment and to make sure that all the investment made by the various stakeholders in the industry brings significant value to entire Nigerians.

Looking at the efficiency of the PoS terminals, rolling out services without proper awareness, training of the merchants and users, would it not amount to putting the cart before the horse?

Much as I cannot say that sufficient awareness has been created, I would want to say that the involvement of stakeholders like the EPPAN has given the cashless policy initiative a real boost. You know that the CBN has mapped out plan which it has given to stakeholders and trade groups to meet various people and to educate them about the cashless policy. These stakeholders are still on the assignments and awareness is a continuous thing.

However, if we do not set a target before any initiative, we may not achieve anything. But I see it that target has been set; the Central Bank has been listening to what people have been saying. Whether sufficient information has been dished out or not, it can never be denied that a lot of communication has been done.

Also, considering that the cashless thing is made to begin with Lagos, the success rate is high. You know if we can succeed in Lagos, we are likely going to succeed in other parts of the country. Like I said, Central Bank is also watching developments closely. It has set January next year as the take off time because some teething problems were identified. So, we need few more months to resolve the issues to make it more perfect. Already, we have seen a significant improvement between now and where we started last year. The level of awareness has also increased; we have no doubt that we will get there.

Don’t you think security is a big issue in the area of card authentication?

Card issuance started around 1998 in Nigeria and debit card between 2003 and 2004 and now a lot of information have been passed to inform people how to protect their personal identification number (PIN). Secondly, the central bank ensures that certain channels are certified fit before any card can be used on those channels. So, basically, when you get your card to any point of sale service, you will know if your card is allowed to transact on such PoS.

In 2009, card transaction migrated from magnetic card to verve card which is Chip and Pin. To this extent, there are no more fears of compromise. It’s just that people should guide their PIN jealously. The main gap we should make sure to cover is the applications that are run on those terminals. Yet, that is the responsibility of the banks to make sure that applications that run on their terminals are appropriately certified by the various card teams.

Now, what is the contribution of Interswitch in the cashless society?

Let me make bold to say that Interswitch started the entire electronic payment in Nigeria and everybody that came in has benefited from what it started. Again, when the PoS terminals were deployed for electronic services, they were deployed by Interswitch and that was in 2005. Now that the market has opened up, Interswitch focuses on providing more point of sales terminals so that the entire industry can continue to flourish very well.

At our ATMs, we have made it possible now for people to pay their bills, buy recharge cards rather than just to withdraw cash alone. Other areas we have worked on are the internet-based solutions. Today, we have over 1,000 people on internet that people can make payments through. So, somebody traveling from Lagos to Abuja can go to internet and buy ticket, which is part of cashless transaction.

We also provide services for banks so that customers of banks can check their account balance, pay bills, buy recharge cards, transfer money and other cash-related transactions. Everything that would have taken them to the banking hall can now be done via internet. Courtesy of our innovations, it is now easy for people outside Nigeria to interact with their banks here. I think these are good backgrounds for cashless society.

You are partners to EPPAN on the e-Payment, what is your success target?

We have been promoting government activity on e-payment. You may be aware that besides PHCN, we also have over 26 state governments that we provide electronic payment services to. Even though Interswitch has done a lot to perfect electronic payment system in Nigeria, we believe that a lot still needs to be done to get government to buy into the idea.

EPPAN is an opportunity to bring together as many people as possible that may have heard or not about the policy. It would be an avenue to convince the supposed implementers on the need to take the issue seriously. We believe that when they come together with the providers, they will better appreciate it.

The main advantage of E-PPAN is that they are not selling anything direct by themselves, what they are doing is they are bringing together the last mile benefactors, the public, federal government, state government, government parastatals, local governments, various local council development areas (LCDAs) to understand the benefits of electronic payment system. I see this as a very good initiative and hope that at the end of the programme, we all will be able to adopt electronic payment in Nigeria and in government.


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