More Card Payments in Africa?

 

More and More Financial Institutions in West Africa  seem to be encouraging customers to make more payments via electronic cards.

Why? Because it seems wherever I turn, there are  numerous promotions and giveaways for using your electronic cards  and the  new card products churned out …

E.g

standard chatered

 

And …

And the failed Ghana  e-zwich card service launched by Bank of Ghana

E-Zwich

 

The launching of different types of card based products

UBA Africard

 

The Cashless Lagos Pilot program by the Central Bank of Nigeria

Cashless lagos

 

The Problem…

Even though there is an uplift of  card carrying customers , I have not seen a commensurate   uplift in retailers  accepting payments via cards.

So there are more customers with electronic cards but with very little retail spaces they can use  these cards to make  payments.

Some  of   the Reasons

1. The Card Machines are expensive to procure

2. Connection problems with the card machines

 What if..

[light bulb moment]

We could provide these retailers  with  cheaper card machines using everyday technology products e.g your mobile phone

There are quite a number of these services available

Square : The payment device is free –  the square device plugs into a mobile phone’s audio jack  of an iPhone, iPad or android phone and it is ready to accept credit card payments. Created by Jack Dorsey (Twitter Co-Founder) and Jim McKelvey

Square

 

Coin: Coin’s circular device connects to a phone’s audio jack via a cable instead of mounting directly onto the device.

Coin

OR:  Flint, which relies on the phone’s camera and its software to process transactions. The service works by holding a credit card or debit card in front of the phone’s camera until its numbers are aligned with Flint’s scanning field

mobile payment via camera

 

Errr.. the other problem is none of these services work in the African region.

So I am proposing a similar simple jack product for the region, but which works with both the internet and directly via  mobile service provider (to try and minimize connection problems)

Who is up for that Challenge? Maybe at the Next Start-up weekend ? Next Maker Faire ?

 

Ethel

6 Comments
  1. Interesting article! But the problem with the solution you are proposing is that it still requires a smartphone, a merchant account for collecting funds and obviously, good internet access from the phone.

    Isn’t it possible to pay using a ussd shortcode? Merchants can register and have a phone number they give to their clients. Clients so something like *123*0242510831*100# where 0242510831 is the merchant number and 100 is the amount to pay. Then client is prompted to enter a pin code and from there, his card gets charged. On the backend, the ussd provider keeps a single wallet from which all payments are made and then he settles all registered merchants.

    It would be more practical but I wonder if it’s feasible …

  2. using USSD is an interesting solution to though there are security issues and flackiness due to its limited time sessions (smart phones have their own problems too)
    I am hedging my bets on the predictions that smart phone will takeover this market in the next couple of years
    http://techcrunch.com/2012/06/09/feature-phones-are-not-the-future/
    http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/07/opinion/real-mobile-revolution-africa-smartphone/

    Hey both solutions will help move things along ..

  3. Good points but I’d like to throw something out there. Has e-zwich failed?

    E-zwich was always about much more than retail payments. Cocoa farmers and Palm Oil farmers receive payments while GHACEM distributors make purchases leveraging e-zwich for payments.

    Has it failed or rather it has faded into the background because it is being utilized by institutions and less so by consumers.

    I hope this post gives me vim to do my annual state of ecommerce in Ghana.

  4. I personally think that e-zwich has failed! Let me explain why:
    E-Zwich was launched at a time when in Ghana we couldn’t even use simple VISA cards to make payments online. I remember back when I started building website, I had to either beg my dad to use his mastercard or do wire transfers to my friends abroad to buy hosting space.
    E-Zwich is by far the only payment platform that is operated in EVERY Ghanaian bank! Emphasis on “every” because it is mission impossible to get all banks to have a common platform, which is an important criteria is you really want to solve the payment problem. People must be able to access their money everywhere regardless of the financial institution they keep their money at.

    So what was wrong with E-Zwich?
    1. E-Zwich required all banks to have a dedicated atm machine (FAIL!!!) instead of integrating with existing ATMs.
    2. E-Zwich was promoting a cashless society where everyone will make payment using their cards and yet, not much effort was put into getting as many merchants to accept e-zwich cards. Ethel mentioned Square as an example, they made their devices free of charge to merchants because they were already making money on each transactions. Why didn’t we go for that approach?
    3. E-Zwich doesn’t have an API. This is probably the biggest failure in my opinion. With the rate at which internet is growing, if Ezwich came and told me I can topup my phone, pay my bills, dstv, buy stuff from Shoprite online, etc … I wouldn’t see any reason why I won’t get one. Having an API would have enabled so many local websites accept payments.

    EZwich could have been the Ghanaian version of VISA. And the painful part is that, it was launched way before Mobile Money took off in Kenya.

    So yes, EZwich failed! Period.

  5. @Ethel. Sorry for this long comment. Holidays, got some time on my hands….

    @ Edem. I agree with your point that E-zwich should be a more dominant player in the payment infrastructure of Ghana.

    However I would still harp on my main point. Let us measure failure or otherwise with more fact based discussions and not just anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence can sometimes be misleading.

    On anecdotal evidence, the fact that DSTV has ONLY 6.67 million subscribers in Africa (out of about 1 billion people), with 4.45 million subscribers in SA alone seems unbelievable to me. I would assume that Nigeria alone would have about 10 million DSTV subscribers!! Think about it.

    E-zwich which processed GHS 217 millon (about $100 million) in 2012, may need to be give closer inspection before being declared failed.

    The mandate of GHIPSS (the operator of e-zwich) was to create a national banking switch (allow common services to be deployed by GH banks) and a smartcard payment platform (enabling retail payments), branded e-zwich. The national switch is working well and can be hailed a success (factoring the usual issues with such infrastructure projects).

    Consumer retail payments, may be floundering, but for certain types of transactions, e-zwich has huge prospects (Students Loan Trust Fund wants to use for student loans; public sector payroll, etc) and some ongoing success (GHACEM distributors; Agric product purchases;).

    Let me respond to your issues below. I like how you call it ‘What WAS wrong with E-zwich’. Dead and buried!! Lol.

    1. Integrate with Existing ATMs
    I believe it was more cost effective to use legislation to mandate banks to deploy compatible ATMs with the national switch than for GHIPSS to integrate with the myriad of ATM platforms which existed at its inception.

    2. The Square model
    E-zwich was launched in 2008, say a year after the iPhone, a period when multinationals like Microsoft were still thinking the iPhone was a fad. A Square like platform would have been a really radical idea to conceive of and implement in Ghana as part of e-zwich.

    Also, Square has raised $341 million (US gave us $500 million for MCA/MiDA) in funding and has about 600 employees. Square makes revenue on each transaction BUT hopes to be profitable in 2016. The Square VC backed model cannot be advocated for a government program in my opinion.

    I must agree however that e-zwich needs some innovation in the consumer payments side.

    3. APIs
    I absolutely agree that an API allowing developers to leverage e-zwich as a payment method is an awesome idea. We do have the MTN MobileMoney API, which has been opened up as a case study we can follow. Hopefully we can use that case study to advocate an E-zwich API in our own small ways.

    To end, I repeat that I am trying to provide a way for us to have discussions based on facts and merits to determine if e-zwich has failed. I am actually not advocating that it has succeeded, just saying lets not jump too fast to call it a failure.

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