Ethiopia: Electronic Cash Payment, Transfer and Transaction Easing Life in Ethiopia

Apr 2016
Ethiopia, April, 22 2016 - Globally, financial sector policymakers recognize the "game-changing" potential of digital financial inclusion and services. "Digital financial inclusion" can be defined broadly as digital access to and use of formal financial services to those excluded and under served populations.

New Digital Financial Services (DFS) platforms such as HelloCash are offering convenient and comparatively less expensive ways to make payments and transfer funds in Ethiopia these days. In addition, these platforms can offer a safe place to store value for hundreds of millions of households that rely on the proverbial mattress.These platforms accommodate the very small and unpredictable cash flows of the poor, allowing them to transact in small amounts whenever they wish, subject to the vagaries of sometimes unpredictable or unreliable connections and other risks.

Digital transactional platforms yield further benefits for financial inclusion by providing both a means to access additional financial services, such as interest-bearing savings, credit, insurance, payment, sending money to people, paying for a service and even investment products. They also generate data that financial providers can use to design financial products tailored to the repayment capacity and financial needs of the specific poor and low-income customer segments.

Digital financial inclusion introduces new market participants and allocates roles and risks in different ways compared to traditional approaches to retail financial service delivery. New parties and arrangements involved in the digital transactional platform, and specifically in the management and storage of account data and the holding of customer funds; the technology used by the device and the digital transactional platform; and the use of agents as the principal customer interface are the three basic components of DFS. Some may think that this service is for the rich who lives a luxurious life, but this is falsified as many are now using the technology to send small amount of money or even to pay for a cup of coffee.

Luxury is not just about being able to afford stuff; it's also about the ease of access and avoiding as much hustle as possible. The world has devised different payment systems that is far more enjoyable in avoiding the hustle involved for paying including carrying around our bills and queuing for them.

Last week a social enterprise named Enterprise Partners (EP) and stakeholders in the financial sector were gathering together here in Addis Ababa in a consultative workshop to discuss the role of DFS in promoting inclusive financial services. The workshop covered also the model of a DFS ecosystem, which parameters drive the development and some international cases. Furthermore, the workshop reflected on the reality on the ground, and what stakeholders (regulators, financial institutions, technology service providers, Ethio-Telecom, Ministry of ICT and the like) could do to accelerate the development of DFS.

In the workshop, it was said that inclusive finance and digital financial services would enable access to a range of quality financial services such as credit, savings, insurance and payment systems and remittances to excluded people with low income in Ethiopia from the mainstream of financial systems through diverse providers. Quality inclusive digital financial systems provide people with affordability, appropriateness, product fit, convenience and dignity with clients regardless of distance and other barriers instead of the traditional financial transaction and financial systems.

Digital finance is considered as a strategic tool that provides huge potential for expanding inclusive finance. Ethiopia has already started even if it is late to implementing digital finance in banking and micro finance sub-sectors and some encouraging progresses have been achieved so far in the past few years. Now many people including policy makers, regulators, and financial institutions have recognized digital finance as the potential "game changer" to expand financial inclusion.

Ethiopia has finally understood that the use of mobile phones with networks of agents is far cheaper way of distributing financial services than distributing financial services by using point of sale service machines (POS), ATMs and Branches. The digital financial service platform now opens a whole new opportunity and possibilities to banks and micro financial institutions (MFIs).

Banks and micro finance institution use this digital financial platform to offer inclusive financial services to the masses by integrating alternative delivery channels such as retail shop who will act as agents and Mobile phone devices owned by the end user. Expanding inclusive finance requires a coordinated efforts of all stakeholders, government policies, strategies and regulatory frameworks. And the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) has finalized the national inclusive finance strategy which stipulates the core elements after cascading GTP-II and other sectoral development targets.

Digital financial services by making use of mobile phone technology (mainly USSD, IVR and SMS) are now flourishing in Ethiopia to make life in a financial sector become more easy and accessible by improving convenience, reachability, universality, usefulness, and inclusion for all citizens in the financial ecosystem.

Nowadays many countries in Africa and other countries are making the economic exchange easy through making an electronic cash transfer which in turn build the saving amount for banks. And countries like Philippines, Mexico and Ethiopia are now focusing on financial inclusion and DFS services after analyzing the benefit of this technology.

In Ethiopia such technology assisted companies are investing extensively to make DFS a success story in the country. BelCash Technology Solutions PLC is one among them. Its HelloCash financial service platform is facilitating electronic money transfer and cashless transactions for many customers nationwide.

I have met Abrham Gulilat, a representative of BelCash and participant in the workshop of the consultative meeting, who speaks with hope and future vision that HelloCash is designed to work towards creating a cashless society who can easily uses technology to make any kind of financial transaction ranging from every day cash transactions to high value transactions to make payment for goods and services.

The company has partnered with financial institutions in order for this new technology to be deployed in Ethiopia. The HelloCash services is compliant with NBE regulations and three financial institutions has obtained full commercial roll-out license from NBE to launch the HelloCash service. Using the HelloCash platform, the three financial institutions (Cooperative bank of Oromia, Lion International bank, Somali Micro Finance) facilitate the transaction process with their 2,000 agents across the country.

Over 300 full time employees are working on different activities ranging from recruiting new agents, call center, customer education, IT support and managing the overall work process nationwide.

The company has invested close to 3 million USD and it is now at the phase of introducing its programs aiming at making a cashless society that gets every economic service at a nearby shop or agent. The majority of economic transactions will be processed while sitting at home or in the office that anybody can be a beneficiary to this system by having only a mobile phone.

Abraham who is also a Co-founder and Chief Operational Officer of the Company for HelloCash told The Ethiopian Herald that DFS has many advantages for a developing countries such as Ethiopia, among which DFS will lower the cost of financial transaction, add convenience to customers, enable reliable cash handling and eliminate the need for travel to make payments. Agents are used to distribute the service to the population. Customer makes cash deposit at nearby HelloCash agents and then transfer money digitally to anyone with a mobile phone. This service reduces the traditional cash to cash transactions and whereby saving time, money and energy as well as overcome the overall transaction hurdles.

When you have to pay your electricity bills, school fees, rent or urgently need to send money to your family and friends, it is too expensive and time consuming to make physical travel to exchange cash. What you simply do is pick up your mobile phone and just pay your electricity bills or school fee from your HelloCash mobile account.

Eliminating the need for physical travel to exchange cash reduce traffic on the streets as it saves fuel consumption's. Furthermore, DFS contributes a lot to the country's economy by increasing efficiency of payment. Because of DFS, banks and micro finance institutions are able to reach new customers at cheaper rate and study their financial history in order to assess customers' behavior and offer suitable services.

Such digital financial services platform providers get their earnings through a fee that they earn from the banks for their technology and service. Ato. Abrham added that his company is working tirelessly to ease the life of citizens by eliminating the need for physical travel to pay your telecom, electricity or water bills. In the near future the company will launch pay bill services which enables citizens to make payment from the comfort of their homes.

Anyone with mobile phone and valid ID is able to register for HelloCash service. The phone numbers of customers will act as mobile account number and 4 digit pin code is used to authorize any transfers. Customers are able to transfer money using USSD based menu or Voice menu by dialing the service numbers dedicated for the service.

With this new technology at its beginning phase, the three financial institutions have registered over 200,000 customers which are transacting over 3 million birr on a daily basis through the HelloCash platform. According to Abrham, the number of customers are expected to reach 12 to 15 million Customers within three years with the aim of expanding the number of agents to 20,000. Abrham added that "the situation in Ethiopia is good for investment. That is why we have got a confidence to invest here in Ethiopia heavily and we plan to increase our investment in the near future"

Negede Abebe, a Chief Corporate Officer at BelCash Technology Solutions, who has worked for more than 30 years in the Banking Industry beginning from a low level expert up to different managerial levels at the national Bank and finally the first President of Buna International Bank witnessed that this new technology which has a vision of creating a cashless based financial transaction is the biggest opportunity in his banking experience and proud to be part of such a new technology. He invites everybody to use the technology to make life easier and more accessible as far as financial service is concerned.

The National Bank of Ethiopia is the regulating body for the financial market and institutions, while Ethio-telecom provides the telecom services, different banks, micro financial institutions provide the service in partnership with DFS platform providers.

Source : AllAfrica

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