When we think of the potential for a cashless society we tend to look at the developed World and markets such as the United States or Europe as the places most likely for this development.  Even with credit cards and smart phones being ubiquitous throughout these countries you would be wise to look to emerging markets as the potential birthplace of a future cashless society.

cash is king

Mobile technology is growing and more than 1.7 billion people have cell phones but no bank accounts in emerging and developing markets.  According to the GMSA in 2012 there were123 mobile-money deployments in emerging markets, with 84 of them originating within the last 3 years.  Mobile money has the ability to offer financial services to the unbanked and reach consumers in the remotest parts of the World.  Even with the potential there is still a long way to go and Nigeria is a great example of this.Image

One of the emerging countries leading the cashless society initiative is Nigeria.  The cashless initiative in Nigeria is in its early stages.  The Central Bank of Nigeria, or CBN, has estimated that it will cost over $930 million to invest in new POS terminals, ATM’s, and payment solutions by 2015 as part of its “Cash-Less Lagos Project”.  Recently the CBN announced 40 billion Naira per day is being transacted virtually and the bulk of these transactions are being conducted in Lagos.

Initially CBN was targeting a phased approach post-pilot in Lagos State and then moving to a second phase which CBN claimed would cover close to 90% of all financial transactions in the country.  Due to the success of the Lagos Pilot CBN decided to implement the cashless push nationwide.  One of the stumbling blocks was the lack of infrastructure to facilitate cashless transactions conveniently and relatively close to the population. Kim Fraser, COO of MMIT, commented on the problems with the pilot program in Nigeria.  “In the Lagos Pilot there were only 10,000 POS systems on the ground in Lagos State.   Today there are over 150,000 POS systems deployed. It is still a small number to cover a country as large as Nigeria.  In addition the CBN has also realized that the term “Cashless” was scaring a lot of people especially in a country where 80% of the population is unbanked. The new catch phrase that the CBN prefers is “Cashlite”. There is still a significant way to go even under the new mantra of Cashlite though CBN appears to be making progress”.

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The debate for a cashless society has its positives and negatives.  For financial institutions a positive development of a cashless society is its ability to reduce costs required to print money and increase its consumer base and services to include the non-banked of the emerging and developing World.  For consumers there is an ease for transactions and the prospect of no longer having to carry cash.  Carrying cash can be a major problem in emerging countries where the risk of being robbed is greater. There is also potential for less corruption and more transparency in a cashless society.

The negatives include the invasion of privacy; security and fraud, and the wide divergence in the experience of mobile money service providers around the world.  There are some obvious hurdles that are slowing the progress of a cashless society including the lack of infrastructure, scalability, and the sustainability of mobile financial services.  So what does this mean for telecom and financial institutions?  It means there exists opportunities for the continued development of new financial products and greater customer education for their products.  If the telecom providers and financial institutions can create a healthy relationship with each other and with their consumer bases there can be continued growth and success for mobile money and other cashless initiatives.

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