Creating a costless electronic payments
system for the developing world
Given the level of inventiveness and the number of...
software which can be provided at no cost to governments. The aim is to develop
a payments system that enables those citiz...
 For individuals with multiple employments, funds received by GCAS are
allocated to the same account, so that the correct...
 One option available to governments is to further encourage use of the e-
payments system by adding a tax charge on any ...
Rather than the ‘shotgun’ method of charging a levy on all money transfers over
mobile phones, which discourages use of el...
6. Incentive programs for cardholders to use e-payments would add costs,
but these may be covered by commercial sponsorshi...
the GCAS system is one single payment for the gross wages of all staff on each
payment.
For businesses big and small, havi...
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Chris williams creating a costless electronic payments system for the developing world

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There is so much inventiveness in new payment technology, particularly involving mobile phones, we may think it is going to be easy to persuade everyone to go away from cash. But that is not what it is happening in the developing world.

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Chris williams creating a costless electronic payments system for the developing world

  1. 1. Creating a costless electronic payments system for the developing world Given the level of inventiveness and the number of new products coming on- stream in the area of new payment technology, particularly in payments involving mobile phones, it may be tempting to think that the move away from cash towards electronic payments is inevitable. But the developing world faces different challenges and has different opportunities provided by the smaller installed base of legacy technologies and rapidly expanding mobile phone usage. Some merchants, especially small enterprises in remote locations who may operate in a mobile environment or in open-air markets etc., do not have reliable electricity supply and telephone landlines with which to operate traditional Point of Sale (POS) terminals – and are unwilling to pay substantial fees charged upfront and ongoing. Those who receive funds often get paid in cash, or even when they do get paid electronically, immediately go to the ATM or the mobile phone agent to change the funds into cash. The recent move by one African country to charge 10% tax on all transfers of funds made via mobile phone is surely in the wrong direction, encouraging people to revert to sending cash as a cheaper alternative. Banks, card associations, new technology providers and mobile phone operators all expect to make profits from the transactions. And given the relatively low spending habits of the average citizens who are receiving government benefits or receiving transfers from family members, there is little incentive for them to contribute marketing spend to fund any part of the process. RTpay is a non-profit group with considerable experience in payment processing, including the development of central clearing, payroll and money transfer
  2. 2. software which can be provided at no cost to governments. The aim is to develop a payments system that enables those citizens who do not have bank accounts and/or the availability of commercial debit cards to have access to a payment capability from a Government Central Accounts System (GCAS). This account could be managed via a stored value card or via a mobile phone payments application or both. A critical benefit of this system would be that it would be operated at no cost to either side of a payment transaction; there would be no transaction fees or charges for merchants or individuals, effectively making every electronic transaction simpler and more attractive than cash payments. Furthermore, incentive schemes would be designed to sit alongside the electronic payments to provide even more reasons for consumers and businesses to move away from cash and towards e-payments. The main features of such a centrally managed clearing system could be:  For internal transfers between family members, SMS or voice-based mobile phone transactions can be used to switch funds from one account to another.  For transfers from outside the country, for example from USA, a local clearing by Automated Clearing House (ACH) can be established for next day settlement in USA and immediate conversion and settlement in the local currency to the recipient’s account. (Note: all such transfers would be analyzed in real time for anti-money laundering and fraud.)  The GCAS can operate an online payroll service enabling employers to simply transfer a single lump sum representing gross earnings for all of its employees to the GCAS, with a significant saving in time and administrative costs. All due taxes can then be calculated for each individual employee, taking into account allowed deductions, discounts and subsidies, before the net amount of salary is settled directly to the GCAS account of the employee.
  3. 3.  For individuals with multiple employments, funds received by GCAS are allocated to the same account, so that the correct adjustments can be made in relation to all sources of income.  Where direct benefits such as pensions, unemployment support, child support etc. are due, these can also be paid in the same manner into the same GCAS account.  Small businesses would have their own account at GCAS, separate from that of their owners, for receiving and paying funds. To encourage better financial inclusion, simple accounting and record-keeping functionality will be incorporated into the account structure.  Any merchant that sells to the public will require a method of accepting electronic payments. This may be via mobile phone communication or by card reader – or probably both. The cost-effective way of doing this is to use a card reader attachment that can be connected to a mobile phone to convert it into a simple card reader, such as those supplied at relatively low cost by companies such as Square and iZettle.  As part of the system both the purchaser and the merchant would be encouraged to use their financial account at the GCAS. However, as part of the structure, the merchant would also be able to accept commercial branded credit and debit cards from customers who have bank accounts on payment of the normal fees.  All payments using a GCAS local stored value card would be free to the merchant, so there would be no reason for them not to accept such payment. This is an important aspect of the zero cost option; it is not only simpler but cheaper for a merchant to be paid electronically than to accept cash, as well as providing simpler built-in administration and book- keeping functions.  The customer never has any costs if they stay electronic; indeed, under a program proposed and designed by RTpay there would be bonuses for keeping funds on account and incentives associated with each transaction performed.
  4. 4.  One option available to governments is to further encourage use of the e- payments system by adding a tax charge on any conversion to cash. A levy of, say, 10% would help to encourage citizens to stay electronic.  The central GCAS account for each citizen could also provide additional value for governments by recording social information, with incentives for regular health checks and immunizations, further education and other activities.  Where a government chooses to offer product-specific discounts or benefits to some subset of citizens, for example, discounts on food or essential goods for mothers of new babies, this can be applied within the GCAS-managed transaction as an invisible subsidy - the merchant would receive the full value for the goods without being aware that a government subsidy was included and that therefore the customer’s GCAS account had been debited by less than the full purchase price.  Collection of VAT and other indirect taxes from merchants can be implemented either as a direct payment or as a real-time reporting function.  The efficiency, fairness and fraud-resistance of the collection of payroll taxes can be significantly improved, while lowering the administrative demands on employers.  Financial assistance payments of a number of types, whether to individuals or to small companies, can be settled through the GCAS clearing structure. Implementation of a zero cost basis system, such as that described here, would require an initial relatively modest capital investment, which could be provided either by the government itself or by an outside agency. However, the increase in tax revenue due to greater visibility of merchants’ income from electronic reports, and the greater efficiency in the collection of payroll taxes, together with ongoing administrative savings for both government and merchants, would more than compensate for capital investment and ongoing running costs.
  5. 5. Rather than the ‘shotgun’ method of charging a levy on all money transfers over mobile phones, which discourages use of electronic transactions, applying this charge only if the recipient converts to cash is an effective way to encourage e- payments. But this policy requires that all merchants and service providers have the ability to accept such payments – and can do so at no cost to them. In summary, a central government-backed payment system with no costs for either the recipient or the merchant can greatly help the development of commerce in the developing world. Commercial banks and international card associations will still have an important role for the more wealthy, but governments have the capability to create a free facility to encourage the use of electronic transactions for those who do not have sufficient funds to justify bank accounts. The costs With no bank or card association fees, the costs can be kept to a minimum: 1. Clearing software will be provided free of charge by RTpay. 2. Debit cards (or software apps for mobile phones) are not expensive – and could be financed by commercial entities in return for advertising and/or data mining. 3. Call center support can be managed by the government, with technical assistance from RTpay. 4. Mobile-phone based debit and credit card readers are low cost items, as are applications for mobile phones. 5. There remain a number of questions for governments to address as part of their licensing terms for financial institutions and other providers associated with such a scheme; for example, would mobile phone companies expect to charge fees on GCAS transactions? Would banks require compensation, even though there may be virtually no usage of their networks?
  6. 6. 6. Incentive programs for cardholders to use e-payments would add costs, but these may be covered by commercial sponsorship and advertising, as with the cards themselves. 7. Management of the data servers is also a cost item that can be viewed as open for financing, based upon the value to commercial entities of some elements of the data. 8. In some territories, such as Nigeria, Russia and India, governments have introduced National Identity Cards that incorporate chip-based technology that enables the card to act as a stored value card as well as an identifier for tax and benefits purposes; the production and issue of these cards is funded by allocating remaining space on the chip to third-party service providers, enabling them also to be used as transport cards, insurance cards and healthcare records, among other things. There remains a question as to whether those with existing bank accounts would wish to also use a government-based card as an additional payment method. If these individuals and businesses would prefer to receive funds exclusively into their bank account – and to use their bank-based payments card – they may be required to pay the appropriate merchant’s fee for their purchases, so the small merchant is still provided with e-payment services at zero cost. Income improvement for governments, employers, businesses and citizens For governments, significant reductions in tax fraud and reduced administrative overheads in tax collection and government-to-citizen payments and subsidies provide capacity-building benefits to payments in increased revenues and reduced costs. But the advantage of being able to deliver targeted support to citizens and businesses is also a valuable bonus. For employers, there is considerable cost and time saving from no longer having to manage payroll deductions and calculations. All that would be needed under
  7. 7. the GCAS system is one single payment for the gross wages of all staff on each payment. For businesses big and small, having a method of accepting payments that avoids all costs – and is simpler account and cheaper to handle than using cash - is a major benefit. For citizens, obtaining what is essentially a government-backed bank account – with no fees – is part of the development of a credit history and fiscal responsibility. Perhaps more important for many will be knowing they are getting their full, correct wages and benefits – and, if the RTpay proposals for incentives are adopted, the citizens can earn interest and bonuses.

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