Public sector workers are not too enthused about part of their salary having to be paid through an e-zwich card. I do not blame them. I remember as a national service personnel being paid through an e-zwich card and immediately heading to the bank to join a long queue to withdraw cash. At no point did I think that I was going to use the card directly in a cashless transaction.
Ghanaians, like most other people, love cash. Holding currency makes you feel secure about your real liquidity. It is not uncommon to see people withdrawing almost their full salary each month and meeting their expenses through that cash pile.
But cash is uncomfortable and risky to handle. It is difficult to transfer. It takes effort to keep ready records of inflows and outflows. It is no wonder that Ghanaians, despite our love for cash, turned out transactions in mobile payments worth GH¢35.4bn ($9bn) in 2015. But how many of these transactions went to paying for goods and services other than mobile data or talktime? It is likely a significant amount of these transactions were just transfers of cash.
Nevertheless, the potential is there. Financial technology (fintech) companies like MPower, ExpressPay and SlydePay are doing a good job of improving online and mobile payments. Mpower recently introduced a system for shopkeepers to receive payments from their customers right from their bank accounts or mobile wallets. There are loans and savings fintech companies like Fido that allow you to borrow money and repay right through a mobile app.
The great thing about these fintech companies is that there is competition and that drives them towards better service delivery and lower fees. Also, they do not suffer from the reputation of unreliability that e-zwich (unfairly) suffers because it is a government product.
The drive towards a cashless economy has to start from what people are already using. You can push salaries through e-zwich but you can’t stop people from immediately withdrawing the balance in cash.
If research is conducted on the average sum fintech product users have as a balance on their account then we can have an idea of how much of their money people won’t mind not having in cash or bank deposits. From there we can have them arrange to receive a certain portion of their salary through these companies.
Of course there is the possibility for collusion to misappropriate funds in this way but if we really want to develop a cashless economy we are going to have to trust. Also, transactions in cash leave no records and Ghana has had problems with money laundering and tax evasion. We have to balance the risks and rewards of maintaining our cash-dependent system with moving to a cashless system and we will struggle to do the latter without involving the private sector.