gh-link cards: How different are they?
gh-link is a pretty familiar name within the payment circles in Ghana. However there is quite some confusion about exactly what gh-link cards are, what they do and how they differ from other cards. Some confuse gh-link cards to be cards issued by a specific institution. This exposé, seeks to address these questions and clarify exactly what gh-link cards are and why we should begin to pay more attention to them as Ghana seeks to achieve higher patronage for payment with cards.
What are gh-Link cards?
gh-Link cards are basically ATM Cards, issued by financial institutions to their customers. These cards have the gh-link logo and not the logo of an International card scheme. Common examples of gh-link cards include ReadyCash issued by GCB Bank, QuickCash issues by Agriculture Development Bank, Access Link card by Access Bank, OneCard issued by Republic Bank and several others. You may want to see gh-link as a collective name or umbrella name for all domestic bank cards in Ghana.
Transactions on the gh-link cards are processed locally. Although the international card are issued through banks in Ghana, the details of all transactions with such cards, are sent outside of Ghana for processing. The prime difference between gh-link cards and international cards therefore lies in the processing of the transactions. While the transactions of international cards are processed abroad, transactions of gh-link cards are processed here in Ghana. This has significant implications.
A major implication is the fact that transactions that are processed locally are cheaper compared to that of International Cards. So if you use a gh-link card, your charges are lower compared to someone who uses an international card in Ghana. This means that if you constantly use an international card in Ghana, then you are expending more than you would if you were using a gh-link card.
Also, because gh-link cards are domestic, it takes a shorter time to resolve payment disputes or challenges. If one uses another bank’s ATM and the funds are not disbursed but the account has been debited, when a complaint is lodged, it will take a shorter time for the issue to be resolved and the payment reversed compared to that of an international card, all things being equal.
In terms of ATM acceptance, gh-link cards are accepted on over 2000 ATMs across the countries. This is a combination of ATMs of Commercial banks, Rural and Community banks, as well as all Savings & Loans companies on the gh-link Network.
Another significant difference between gh-link cards and international cards is the fact that, offerings or services that can be offered can be aligned to domestic needs for gh-link cards. This implies that you can for instance enable the gh-link card to perform transactions which are peculiar to Ghana by adding functionalities specific to local demands. Normally, the international cards provide generic offerings and struggle to align to local needs or offerings.
However, while international cards can be used both in Ghana and outside Ghana, the gh-link cards in their current form, can only be used in Ghana. GhIPSS has however hinted that soon international acceptability of gh-link cards will be possible. For someone who hardly travels outside of Ghana or shops online, you bear unnecessary cost if you keep using international cards locally. It is really a big mismatch.
Even for those that travel abroad regularly or buy from abroad online, you can keep both cards and use gh-link cards for domestic transactions and international cards for international transactions. Indeed, the practice of carrying different bank cards and using them at different places and for different reasons, is common in most developed countries.
In terms of security though, both gh-link and international card schemes use appropriate technology to secure their transactions. Globally, the preferred bank card technology is the chip and pin technology referred to as EMV standard. EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard, Visa. It is the global standard for chip-based Debit and Credit Card transactions.
It is a joint effort between Europay, MasterCard and Visa to ensure security of card transactions. Following the publication of Ghana's EMV standard, significant number of banks have migrated their cards from the old technology of magnetic strip cards to EMV cards, making them as secured as their international counterparts. The gh-link cards which are yet to complete the migration, are at various stages of completion as it is now a requirement for all bank in Ghana, to provide customers with an option to own a gh-link EMV Card.
Why the name gh-link?
The name gh-link is derived from the words “Ghana link” and “Card”. It is a card scheme designed for Ghanaians; it rides on a system that connects (links) all Financial Institutions in Ghana called the gh-link platform; thus the name "gh-link card".
In 2007, the Bank of Ghana set up a subsidiary to help modernise electronic payments in Ghana and called it the Ghana Interbank Payments and Settlement Systems Ltd (GhIPSS). GhIPSS was mandated to migrate Ghana into an electronic payment society by providing the right infrastructure that will support the introduction of various electronic payment products and services. Basically, GhIPSS is to ensure that we use less of cash and more of electronic forms of payment such as bank cards, mobile payments, internet banking, Automated Clearing House among others.
In August 2012, as part of its mandate, GhIPSS launched the National Switch, and called it the gh-link Platform. The broad aim was to enable financial institutions "talk to each other" by connecting all of them to a Central System. This interconnection was to enable banks and other financial institutions, share each other’s Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Point of Sales (POS) terminals among others. It was also to allow financial institutions issue domestic ATM cards that will be accepted on ATMs & POSes of all Institutions connected to the gh-link platform.
Currently, all banks, are connected to the gh-link platform but not all of them issue gh-link Cards. While some banks give customers the option of choosing between a gh-link card and an International Card; others issue only gh-link or International cards. Prior to the launch of the gh-link platforms, the ability to use one bank card on another bank’s ATM or POS terminal was not available. This move by GhIPSS was a significant development in the country’s payment history.
How do you distinguish a gh-link card from others?
Every bank card bears the name of the financial institution that issued it. In addition to the name of the Institution, is a logo of the Institution and the platform on which the card functions. In the case of International Cards, you see the logo of the bank that gave you the card and that of the scheme ( VISA or MasterCard). Similarly, a gh-link card, has the details of the bank that issued the card and the gh-link logo (a red & blue circle with the inscription: gh-link inside the circle) on the card.
ReadyCash by GCB for example, carries the identity of gh-link card scheme as well as the details of the bank. A card that does not carry any of the international card schemes logo is most likely to be a domestic gh-link card.
In conclusion, the use of bank cards especially for payment is picking up gradually and understanding the different card types, what to use and where to use, is even more important.
gh-link cards or domestic card schemes are not unique to Ghana, several countries have their domestic card schemes. The equivalent of gh-link card in India is Rupay, it is PayPak in Pakistan, PayNet in Malaysia and Rswitch Smart Card for Rwanda. The need to know the distinction is becoming a dominant discourse globally especially among emerging economies and Ghana cannot be left out of the ongoing conversation.