When Ecobank launched its digital strategy earlier this year, in Rwanda and the other 30-odd African countries where it operates, the element that stood out the most was its mobile app. Among its more remarkable features are the possibility to create an account without any paperwork in just a few minutes on your phone, as well as a system to pay for goods with your smartphone which requires only a QR code printed on cardboard instead of hi-tech equipment such as PoS card-readers.
This means that the system is easily deployable in areas where cash is still often the only way to pay, such as markets, small shops, and taxis (both motorcycles and cars), all the more so since Ecobank has promised that the payment system will soon be adapted for USSD codes, so that you don’t need a smartphone to use it.
Other commercial banks, too, are in a drive to make more and more of their services available digitally, so that people can manage their accounts wherever and whenever they want, without the need the go all the way to a banking hall. Many banks also have systems that allow customers to use their phones to buy airtime or Cashpower, or pay water and TV subscription bills.
Yet with its QR code payment system, Ecobank is a trailblazer on the road to a cashless economy, as it takes the cashless option to people who in general are less tech-savvy and do not have access to sophisticated gadgets. This is exactly where the battle for the cashless economy will be won, and before Ecobank came in, this group was only served by the telecoms and their mobile phone payment systems.
So we can only hope that other banks also get on board, and that QR code payments can be developed into a universal system as it has been done with Visa or Mastercard.
As the Managing Director of Ecobank Rwanda, Alice Kilonzo-Zulu, points out in her interview with Hope Magazine, this will of course require a change in mindset, and this is where the authorities can play a role.
They can actively promote such cashless payment systems, for example by ensuring that in every market there are a few pioneers who adopt those systems, and can then inspire others. Or they can make cashless payment options a requirement to obtain a license for a car or motor-taxi.
It is only when the masses start abandoning cash that the dream of a cashless economy can become a reality.
Read the editorial and more in issue n° 80 of Hope Magazine.