Business News of 2014-06-02

BoG directs banks to offer e-zwich services at all branches

The low patronage of e-zwich cards by individuals, merchants and banks will soon become a thing of the past following collaborative moves by the Bank of Ghana (BoG), the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department (CAGD) to deepen penetration of the service.

The BoG, for its part, has directed all banks to deploy e-zwich point of sale (POS) terminals at all their branches and agencies by June 30, this year and issue the card to every customer.

COCOBOD

The COCOBOD, the Daily Graphic has learnt, will pay farmers, beginning this crop season, on their e-zwich cards to make the payments quicker, flexible and more convenient, as well as reduce the human factor and the corruption associated with cash payments.

Pursuant to that, the board will liaise with the Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement System (GhIPSS), the BoG subsidiary which is implementing a cashless society in Ghana, to sensitise cocoa farmers across cocoa-growing areas to how to use the cards.

Controller

The CAGD also plans to pay the salaries of all public sector workers through e-zwich, starting this month, in order to weed out ghost names. These planned payments via e-zwich will significantly increase the number of people using the biometric card and it is believed that the BoG’s directive is to ensure that e-zwich services are readily available at several places, so that people can easily access them.

The directive and others, which the regulator says require strict compliance, are contained in a letter signed by the BoG Secretary, Mrs Caroline Otoo, and addressed to managing directors of banks, a copy of which the Daily Graphic has obtained.

Daily Graphic sources within the BoG have indicated that the directive follows a meeting held between the managing directors of the banks and the Central Bank. According to the letter, the banks were also required to deploy the hybrid POS terminals at all existing and future acquired merchants. In addition, the banks are supposed to integrate all existing switches into the national switch.

Impact of directives

These measures are intended to promote the frequent use of e-zwich cards across the country. One of the reasons accounting for the low patronage is the absence of POS terminals at various locations in the country, including banking halls and merchant premises.

The e-zwich cards are biometric money smart cards with the widest coverage in the country. People who are not literate can use them with their fingerprints as passwords, thereby enabling all segments of society, irrespective of literacy levels, to use the cards for the platform to gain universal acceptance.

The GhIPSS has announced a number of initiatives it intends to roll out to provide more value for users of the e-zwich and the directives are likely to prepare the ground for the roll out.

Analysts have told the Daily Graphic that the move by the Central Bank is also expected to set the stage for the public to switch to using electronic cards to make payments, instead of the continuous use of cash. The initiative will also promote cashless transactions in the country.

Deploying e-zwich ATMs

The GhIPSS is collaborating with some big banks to upgrade their automated teller machines (ATMs) to accept e-zwich cards. As a pilot exercise, Ecobank has already upgraded four of its ATMs to accept both e-zwich cards and the normal ATM cards, with an intention to make all the bank’s ATMs, as well as those of GCB and two other banks, e-zwich compliant.

Currently, the GhIPSS has installed 22 e-zwich ATMs across the country. The GhIPSS also told the Daily Graphic earlier this year that it was on course with the roll out of about 2,000 hybrid POS devices to facilitate the wide use of the biometric smart money cards.

So far, it has deployed about 100 of such POS devices, with the Palace Shopping Centre, one of the biggest retail outlets, having the new one. The shopping centre has commenced a campaign, in collaboration with the UT Bank, to encourage shoppers to use their cards to make payments.

Besides, the participation of widely distributed rural and community banks, as well as savings and loans companies, across the country in the issuance and use of e-zwich cards is expected to increase the penetration of e-zwich cards.

Discrimination

Some banks in the country prefer promoting other international cards such as MasterCard, Visa cards, Union pay and others within Ghana, ahead of the country’s own biometric e-zwich, packaged to be easily used by all, including informal sector players (the so-called illiterates), to ensure a cashless society.

Consequently, the directive also provides that banks, as well as savings and loans companies, which do not have switches should arrange to be set on the e-zwich platform or acquire switches and integrate them into the national switch.

The national switch is a common backbone which is supposed to link all electronic databases of the participating financial institutions, such as universal banks, rural banks, savings and loans companies and other e-Commerce cards operated in the country.

The directives also expect existing ATMs and POS terminals which are already installed to be upgraded to meet e-zwich standards.

Banks’ collaboration

Since the introduction of the cards in 2008, many bank branches still do not offer e-zwich services, while in other branches e-zwich services to customers are not reliable. Currently, some private firms pay their employees, particularly those on commission, via e-zwich.

Students’ loans and National Service allowances are also paid onto the card. The latest major payment through e-zwich is the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme. Sometime last year, the Ghana Cement Company (Ghacem) also started paying its distributors through the e-zwich biometric smart cards in the comfort of their offices.