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LEARNING SERIES >> Government ownership and leadership over digitization – critical to driving and scaling up digital payments

© ©Better Than Cash Alliance / Erwin Nolido

Planning: Vision and commitment to make digital payments a national priority

9% more mobile money accounts are held by Filipino women than men

Over 20 years ago, the Philippines was one of the first countries to pioneer digital payments with the launch of mobile money. The country has had remarkable success in its efforts to build an inclusive digital payments ecosystem since 2001, with Filipino women holding 9 percent more accounts than men. Digital payments have also been given a strong boost since the pandemic, thanks to the person-to-person (P2P) use of the QR PH scheme. This uses quick response (QR) technology so that users can send money by scanning QR codes – the volume of these P2P transactions grew by not far off 6,000 percent in the year to December 2020. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), towards ensuring responsible digital payments for all, has shown commitment to creating an efficient and reliable national payments system. Following the diagnostics conducted with the Alliance in 2015 and 2019, BSP led a summit in December 2019 to bring together leaders from across the government and the private financial and retail sectors, when the commitment to accelerate the adoption of digital payments was renewed.

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In Senegal, the Alliance has focused on building strong relationships with key stakeholders, leading meetings with over 20 ministers and public agency directors. Through this advocacy effort and using recommendations from the diagnostic, the digitization vision of the country is now being shaped by a coordination unit established by the government, represented by multiple ministries. Ministers have appointed directors or senior officials to act on their behalf to facilitate research and engagement with partners and the private sector. To ensure effective alignment with the country’s priorities across all sectors, the Alliance gave advice on research development and stakeholder mobilization. This assistance to the Prime Minister’s cabinet led to the launch of the diagnostic and its endorsement on behalf of the President of the Republic at a ceremony attended by the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Senegal and the Regional Central Governor. The government was able to use the diagnostic in its fundraising efforts for digitization, raising US$ 3 billion from the investors approached during the digital economy session at the Paris Consultative Group. In under two years since the launch, three digitization decrees have been signed to implement the diagnostic’s recommendations.

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Spearheaded by the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), the National Digital Payments Strategy (NDPS) was approved by Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers in June 2021. The NPDS was developed in coordination with Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Innovation and Technology, with close collaboration with key stakeholders in the Ethiopian digital payments ecosystem. The NDPS will bring payment efficiency across different sectors and is being implemented in with ongoing reforms under the Digital Ethiopia 2025 vision to stimulate digital financial inclusion, create decent jobs, and promote women economic participation to narrow the gender financial gap.

80% of the 4 million garment sector workers in Bangladesh are women

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, work is under way for a second diagnostic, to assess the trajectory of the country’s journey to digitization since its first diagnostic in 2016. Bangladesh is committed to digitizing wages in the ready-made garment sector, where 80 percent of the 4 million workers are women. During the onset of the pandemic, 1.92 million mobile financial services accounts were created to enable wage payments through mobile banking. This is in line with the 2018 commitment made by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) at the Alliance-organized Digital Wages Summit, to bring 90 percent of garment workers into the digital wage system by 2021.

Implementation: How does a diagnostic translate into a national strategy?

Developed directly from the findings of the 2019 diagnostic in the Philippines, BSP launched a digital payments transformation roadmap. Key to achieving an efficient, safe, and inclusive payment ecosystem, its objectives towards 2023 are to strengthen customer preference for digital payments and to create more innovative digital financial services. These services should be characterized by: (1) the innovation-driven use of consumer data to design financial products and services, including in lower-income sectors, (2) more individuals being able to access financial services thanks to know-your-customer (KYC) processes enabled by the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys), and (3) the availability of a next-generation payment and settlement system to facilitate the real-time processing of financial transactions in the Philippine economy.

The implementation of Ethiopia’s NDPS is aligned to the country’s digital transformation agenda, the continental Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-30), and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Widespread digitization across the economy key sectors saw an increase in number of mobile wallets to more than 1 million subscribers. The number of mobile money agents also increased from 15,000 to 26,000, and more than 4,000 businesses have started accepting mobile money payment. As of October 2021, NBE has prioritized the roll out of EthSwitch interoperability plan, approving the launch of a unified mobile money platform for the country.

In Ghana, the foundation for the country’s Cash-Lite roadmap was set by the diagnostic conducted with the Alliance in 2017. The government identified three priority use cases during this consultative process, in which we also worked closely with other development partners, including the World Bank and CGAP. These digital payments use cases had the greatest potential impact on the digitization shift: (1) digital payment of fees for government products, services, and fines (by both individuals and businesses; P2G and B2G payments); (2) digital payments to public utilities such as water and electricity, and (3) digital merchant and retail payments, especially within the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) value chain. Based on these use cases, the roadmap outlined key actions and identified actors to take the initiative forward.

Scaling up: Reaching key government agencies and sectors

50% digitizing half of all national payments has the potential to add FCFA 104 billion to Senegal’s GDP

The diagnostic in Senegal demonstrated the potential to add FCFA 104 billion (over US$ 177 million) to GDP per year by digitizing 50 percent of all national payments. This encouraged the government to set up a national body to coordinate payment digitization, and it nominated the Alliance as the only international organization to have a seat on the body. Additional reforms were created as a result of our advisory work, involving issues related to health and labor. Based on the finding that digitizing payments to beneficiaries from the Agence de la Couverture Maladie Universelle (for universal health coverage) would help 3 million people, mainly women and children, the Ministry of Health has set the goal to increase this coverage to 7 million people in three years. The diagnostic also paved way for the digitization of wages in Senegal, with follow-up research conducted by the Alliance with the World Bank and the Senegalese National Bureau of Statistics. This research unlocked US$ 20 million of World Bank funding to match funding by the Senegal government in support of private sector wage digitization.

In Ghana, the Ministry of Finance saw an opportunity to digitize utility payments following the diagnostic conducted in 2017. Evolving from the ministry’s recommendation, the Alliance collaborated with Ghana Water Company to digitize bill payments, which saw a growth of 120 percent in clients paying this way. Meanwhile, Ghana’s Cash-Lite Roadmap recognized the importance of digitizing the cocoa sector as being catalytic to building a rural digital finance ecosystem. The Alliance’s work with the World Cocoa Foundation resulted in two publications that have been instrumental in scaling up the digitization of this sector in Ghana: Digitizing Payments in Ghana’s Cocoa Supply Chain and The Hidden Costs of Cash to Ghana’s Cocoa Sector. Today, the ambitious project to digitize all payments is being undertaken by Cocobod, Ghana’s state-owned company responsible for the industry.

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The NDPS is the first digital payments strategy for Ethiopia. It outlines the potential benefits of digitizing payments in key sectors of the economy, including agriculture, tourism, and social protection payments. The government of Ethiopia is also committed to narrowing the gender gap in the next 5 years. The NDPS is closely aligned with the Digital Ethiopia 2025 strategy, which is set to transform the economy through four sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, IT-enabled services, and tourism. To achieve this the NBE is coordinating and working closely with several ministries and government agencies, including the Prime Minister Office, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Innovation and Technology, Ministry of Revenues and Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This whole of government transformation provides the mandate to the different agencies to support a broader impact on payment digitization within the country.

There are many considerations and opportunities to optimize the impact of recommendations from diagnostics. Based on the Alliance’s experience of working with government members, it is essential to have engagement across the board to advance the digitization agenda. Collaboration among all levels of leadership – from the technical resources on ground to the highest level of government – can go a long way toward addressing the challenges, advocating best practices, and streamlining actions to ensure a responsible shift from cash to digital payments.