Governments and startups in Africa are implementing tools to shift a greater volume of payment transactions away from cash, which the World Health Organization (WHO) flagged as a pipeline for the spread of the coronavirus.
It’s a choice facilitated by the rise in fintech that has occurred in Africa over the last decade. By several estimates, Africa is home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population and has a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.
In Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy with a population of 200 million people, the growth of COVID-19 cases has moved the country toward electronic payments and prompted one of the country’s largest digital payments startups to act.
Lagos-based venture, Paga made fee adjustments, allowing merchants to accept payments from its customers for free – a measure “aimed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria,” according to a release from the company.
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Some parts of Lagos, which are connected to Nigeria’s largest commercial hub of Lagos State, have begun to require digital payments in response to COVID-19, according to Paga’s CEO Tayo Oviosu.
“We’re seeing some stores that are saying they are not accepting cash anymore,” he told TechCrunch on a call.
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Paga already offers free P2P transfers on its multi-channel network of 24,840 agents and 14 million customers. The startup (that recently expanded to Mexico and partnered with Visa) will also allow free transfers up to roughly 5000 Naira (≈$15) from customer accounts to bank accounts, to encourage more digital payments use in Nigeria.
What it means: Paga’s CEO believes the current COVID-19 crisis will encourage more digital finance adoption in Nigeria, which has shown a cash-is-king reluctance by parts of the population to use mobile payments.
Time and research will determine if efforts of African governments and tech companies to encourage digital payments over physical currency yield results in halting the spread of COVID-19 on the continent.
Ghana is also using mobile payment tools as a monetary policy lever to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Lately, the West African country’s central bank directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of $1, with restrictions on transactions to withdraw cash from mobile-wallets.
Ghana’s monetary body also eased KYC requirements on mobile-money, allowing citizens to use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with the major digital payment providers, according to a March 18 Bank of Ghana release.
The trajectory of the coronavirus in Africa is prompting more countries and tech companies to include mobile finance as part of a broader response. The continent’s COVID-19 cases in the single digits until recently, but those numbers spiked last week leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm.