Let’s do away with offering bowls; it’s time for digital payments

Offering Bowl Money Collection bowl with money

Thu, 2 Aug 2018 Source: Derrydean Dadzie

Famous French poet, Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) suggested many years ago that "there is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world", and that is an idea whose time has come. In other words, nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.

Just as in many evolutions, disruptions, and paradigms, the last decade has brought us digital payments, and nothing can stop its invasion of our transaction spaces.

For the many detractors, or let me say laggards, even with legitimate reasons not to adopt digital payment, it won't be long that they will have no alternatives than to utilise digital channels to transact life’s everyday business.

The numbers are there to prove it. According to Bank of Ghana, the value of mobile money transactions as at the 1st quarter of 2018 alone was over 52.35 billion cedis from, about 312 million volume of transactions across three telecommunication networks, MTN the leader, Vodafone, and AirtelTigo.

Obviously, there is a wave of digital payment adoption in Ghana and increasingly, the emergence of Fintechs and the platforms that are being offered by these fintechs in the value of the transactions stream are playing a major role in the rise of digital payments. By the end of the next decade or before, we are going to see total adoption of digital payments by all segments of our society.

It is refreshing to see a lot of businesses in Ghana adopting mobile payments, especially mobile money. From corner shops to supermarkets, to restaurants, to corporates, to hospitals, to transport services and all major transaction points, the country is seeing a viral adoption and adaptation towards mobile payments.

This makes the realisation of a cashless society a soon-to-be certainty. Contrary to views of some people who see a cashless society as a longshot so prefer to use the term cashlight, I for one don't see a reason why transactions in Ghana and across the world can't be dominantly cashless.

Here is the caveat though, cashless does not mean the death of cash. What is happening is natural selection towards more experiential alternatives of making payments through channels such as cards, virtual currencies, and digital wallets.

Digital payment methods improve the lives of people. Digital payments provide people with better transactional experiences such as frictionless-ness, convenience, transactions visibility, and security. Through the expansion of digital payments, we drive financial inclusion.

Majorly, there is an infinite possibility in transactional innovation which attracts different strata of our society to the transactional economy.

This phenomenon increases the number of persons within the transactional ecosystem that can access and benefit from the financial system. With digital payments, people and businesses are able to tell better and more accurate financial stories of their everyday activities.

Knowing the tremendous benefits we derive from digital payments, why are churches delaying in making digital payments a mainstream dynamic in their mobilisation of money? Also, why are people vilifying churches who have seen the light and utilising digital payments to broaden financial participation in their activities? Churches have played a vital role in the development of Ghana communities. Without mentioning names, the physical evidence of churches’ role in our national development are there for all to see.

Over the years, churches have been instrumental in developing education in Ghana by building schools right down from primary to the tertiary levels. Churches have given scholarships, built health institutions, provided accommodation, created farms and contributed immensely to social progress in Ghana through various welfare initiatives. Most of these things are done with money from members and external donors through very tactical fundraising mechanisms.

The reality though is, churches still need money to sustain all these activities and drive new initiatives. In the pursuit of financial sustainability, the fundraising tactics of the churches have to change. It’s time churches consider and adopt digital payments and push greater financial participation in their churches’ activities. Digital Payment is a fast evolving paradigm and churches who fail to steer their financial management strategy in a digital direction are bound to fail. Without adopting digital payments, churches risk limiting their ability to raise funds for their projects and other social responsibilities.

Considering more and more people are carrying less physical cash every day, and even on weekends, churches have to provide channels that can enable such people to continue to contribute to church activities. With digital payments, churches increase their reach and sources of financial inflows for their activities and initiatives. Churches can use digital payment platforms through crowdfunding to collect micro-contributions from a large and distributed donor base. Digital payments offer much ubiquity, so geographical boundaries are no more inhibitions for raising needed funds for church initiatives.

Digital payments are predominantly channelled agnostic and can permeate a plethora of moments. For example, an inability to attend church services would not mean an inability to participate virtually or financially in church activities. People can follow sermons and church activities via digital media and make financial contributions at different moments during the service. Adopting digital payments means, church projects and initiatives would be finished faster to the benefit of members and in many cases reduce the dependence of churches on bank loans.

Another great benefit churches derive from adopting digital payments is they have access to critical data that they can utilise to make strategic decisions that have a positive impact on the physical church, its members and the society at large. Additionally, there is greater transparency with the adoption of digital payments, as financial reporting is instant, trackable, easily auditable, dynamic and highly visualisable.

Churches abound with impact-driven initiatives and activities that require funding. Digital payments provide the capability for tactical targeting and natural segmentation of such initiatives for funds mobilisation.

There are many payment platforms that Churches can take advantage of to power their digital payments strategies. These platforms also charge nominal transaction fees that they use to maintain and sustain their platform operations. Most of these platforms have the capability to offer collectively or separately, payment rails such as Visa, MasterCard, and Mobile Money.

Some of these fintechs can tailor the capabilities and features of the digital payment platforms to the needs of the church. For example, churches can be given their personalised USSD payment codes that work on all mobile devices, web links they can share, specialised payment buttons that they can make available on their websites and visibility in the payment apps of the providers.

In the past weeks, ICGC has made it possible and easy for their members to participate financially in church activities through digital payments. They have enabled their members to use platforms like Slydepay, Expresspay and Ecobank Pay to make payments to the church. This laudable initiative has raised many eyebrows and gotten the unjustifiable church backlash from some groups of people on social media.

I find it somewhat bemusing, enstranging and shocking that in this digital era where we are seeing everywhere around the world a quest for greater digital transformation, some sections of Ghanaian society will take issue with a church adopting digital payments. I firmly believe this is the time for all of us Ghanaians to embrace the new payment paradigm of digital payments.

I entreat all churches to follow ICGC, Perez Chapel and the few other churches who have taken the lead in transforming financial participation in the Body of Christ. Globally, churches are increasingly moving towards digital payments for the offertory, tithes, and other donations. Ghana-based churches cannot lag behind. All churches should do away with the offering bowl and broaden financial participation by making payments digital.

Columnist: Derrydean Dadzie