Statistics from the Ghana Interbank Payments and Settlements System (GhIPSS) indicate there was a huge increase in real time electronic payments in the country last year, driven largely by COVID-19.
Chief Executive of GhIPSS, Archie Hesse disclosed this to journalists at their annual media forum held for the first time virtually due to COVID-19.
Per the figures shared by the CEO, real time electronic payments portfolio, comprising of mobile money interoperability (MMI), GHQR Code, Proxy Pay and GhIPSS Instant Pay (GIP) closed the year with the strongest performance, compared to their performance the previous year.
In all they recorded a total of 50.7 million transactions with a corresponding value of GHC15 billion, compared to just 11.3 million transactions and a relative value of GHC2.7 billion 2019.
But the major driver among the real time payment platforms was mobile money interoperability, which processed a total of 43.9 million transactions, representing a 367% increase from 9 million transactions processed in 2019.
“The MMI performance was driven by three (3) use cases namely: transfers between wallets across Mobile Money Operators (MMOs); transfers from mobile wallets to bank accounts and transfers from mobile wallets to e-zwich card wallets.
Meanwhile, GhIPSS Instant Pay (GIP) platform also recorded significant growth in both transfers from bank accounts to mobile wallets and transfers between bank accounts across banks.
At the end of 2020, GIP transactions increased by 257% from 1.9 million in 2019 to 6.8 million.
According to Archie Hesse, GhIPSS also recorded introductory transactions from new services such as Proxy Pay and GhQR code.
He explained that the upsurge in the use of the real-time services was largely influenced by COVID-19 related factors such as the 3 weeks lockdown, which restricted the physical movements of people, extensive public education discouraging the handling of physical cash and encouraging the use of electronic alternatives and the incentivization from the financial services industry with fee waivers on their services.
The CEO also believes real time payments became the payment platform of choice because it was convenient for individual customers and cost effective for banks and merchants, who needed not to invest in any heavy infrastructure to receive real time electronic payments.
The other portfolio that saw some growth was the Clearinghouse/bulk payment services, particularly because corporate Ghana preferred those services to the use of real time payment platforms for bulk payments.
According to Archie Hesse, even though corporates could not use much of cheques and ACH for transactions during the COVID lockdown, the GhIPSS clearing house services still remained the preference of corporate Ghana and that drove the marginal growth seen in 2020.
“…the clearing house processed the second highest volume of instruments and managed to record 0.10% increase to bring the total volume of Cheques processed in 2020 to 14.9 million transactions. The clearing house still remains the preferred channel for processing high values especially by large corporate institutions. Despite the state of the economy in 2020, the clearing house recorded a 9% increase in transaction value from GHC209 billion in 2019 to GHC 229 billion,” he noted.
In a bid to extend real-time payment functionalities to bulk payments, which is mainly patronized by corporate clients, GhIPSS also introduced the Near real-time (NRT) service in September, 2020, and it has successfully processed over 100 thousand NRT payments.
“We expect to see adoption of NRT growing among our corporate clients,” the CEO said. “We also expect that individuals who used Express ACH Direct will all move to ACH NRT this year, which allows bulk payments in just 15 minutes.”
But the hardest hit was he cards portfolio comprising of the e-zwich and gh-link cards, which are largely dependent on ATMs and POS and encourage the use of cash. It would be recalled the in 2019, gh-link suffered a decline as well.
E-zwich transactions declined by 3% from 10.7 million transactions in 2019 to 10.4 million in 2020, while gh-link transactions also declined by 17% from 900 thousand transactions in 2019 to 800 thousand transactions in 2020.
Despite the decline in transaction volumes, however, the value of transactions increased. The value of e-zwich transactions increased by 43% from GHC6 billion in 2019 to GHC9 billion in 2020, while that of gh-link also increased marginally by 0.14% to GHC300 thousand.
Archie Hesse noted that lack of adequate outlets to access e-zwich services remain the major hindrance to the growth of e-zwich transactions, saying that clients are compelled to move out all their funds once they are paid to reduce the frequency of using the e-zwich card.
“The decline in gh-link transactions on the other hand can be attributed to the lack of gh-link card issuance on the part of financial institutions, the growing adoption of mobile forms of payments and the impact of COVID-19 communications on dangers in touching surfaces,” he said.
He explained further that cards are expensive to manage for banks because the banks would need to deploy ATMs and POSs, which are expensive, whereas it cost them next to nothing to create systems to do real time mobile-based electronic transactions.
“You will find that banks deployed very few ATMs, and their POSs are deployed only in middle class outlets, while the greater majority of retailers/outlets accept payments with mobile money, QR Codes and other Fintech Apps,” he explained further.
Archie Hesse said the Bank of Ghana would this year make it compulsory for all banks and outlets to activate the universal GHQR Code to make financial transaction convenient and far less expensive for both users and merchants alike.
He is urging banks and other financial institutions to consider the associated infrastructure to every payment system they adopt before they go for it, as everyone is looking for more convenient and less expensive transaction options.