Connect with us

Opinion

Cash is falling out of fashion – will it disappear forever?

Published

on

On June 27, the ATM turns 50. Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker once described it as the “only useful innovation in banking.” But today, the cash that ATMs dispense may be on the endangered list.

Cash is being displaced in so many ways that it’s hard to keep track. There are credit cards and electronic payments; apps such as Venmo, PayPal and Square Cash; mobile payments services; cryptocurrencies that operate outside the purview of central banks; and localized offerings such as Kenya’s mPesa, India’s Paytm and Bangladesh’s bKash. These innovations are encouraging cashlessness across communities worldwide.

It’s reasonable to expect cash to follow the path of other goods that have been replaced by digital alternatives, such as photos, music and movies. Will cash – and the ATMs that dispense it – experience a “Blockbuster” moment and disappear from our neighborhoods?

Not so fast. Cash will likely become less popular, thanks to the high cost of using cash and the growing array of alternatives. But I expect it will remain with us forever. The future will be “less cash,” rather than cashless.

The cost of cash

As of 2013, approximately 85% of the world’s transactions involved cash.

Reliance on cash is quite uneven across the world. While Singapore, the Netherlands, France, Sweden and Switzerland are among the least cash-reliant countries, in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Peru and Egypt, only 1% of transactions are cashless. Even some highly advanced countries, such as Japan, are still highly reliant on cash.

Cash usage in the U.S. is still high relative to EU countries. In 2015, cash usage in the U.S. represented 13.1% of its GDP, whereas it represented just 7.1% in France and 4.5% in Switzerland.

Concerns about social equity offer one motivation for lawmakers to push for cashless alternatives. My colleague Benjamin Mazzotta and I have studied the costs of cash across a wide range of countries, with a particular focus on the U.S., Mexico, Egypt and India. Our research shows that the poor and those with less access to institutions bear a disproportionate share of these costs of using cash.

In the U.S., for example, cash usage imposes a regressive tax on consumers, with the highest impact on people who do not have an account with a bank. We found that the unbanked pay four times more in fees to access their money than those with bank accounts. They also pay $4 higher fees per month for cash access on average than those with formal financial services. Such fees include those charged for payday lending, buy-here-pay-here auto loans and check cashing. The unbanked have a five times higher risk of paying cash access fees on payroll and EBT cards.

Poorer consumers also have to spend far more time getting cash. On average, Americans spend 28 minutes a month traveling to get cash, but that time isn’t evenly distributed. People who don’t use a bank spend about five minutes longer getting to the place where they can get cash, and unemployed people spent nearly nine minutes more.

In the meantime, other scholars have argued for the benefits of a “less cash” society. Ken Rogoff at Harvard has argued that eliminating higher-denomination banknotes can prevent currency from being used to fund illegal activities.

A world without cash

A combination of public and private initiatives are currently chipping away at the global predominance of cash, with some countries moving more quickly than others.

Sweden, already high on the cashlessness scale, may become the first country to come close to a truly cashless state. Sweden’s history in banks promoting cash alternatives dates back to the 1960s, with digital bank transfers used to pay wages. Cards also become more popular in the 1990s, when banks also started charging a fee for checks. The app, Swish, developed by the major banks, is widely used today for digital money transfers by nearly half the population. Many businesses discourage use of cash, and retailers are legally allowed to refuse cash.

In several other countries, governments are experimenting with innovative digital alternatives. In 2012, the Royal Canadian Mint launched the MintChip project, recently handed over to the private sector. The plan is to store cash on computer chips, enabling the transfer of money between chips through encrypted messages.

In some countries, the private sector has led the way, creating “less cash” societies in the unlikeliest of places. Consider Somaliland, one of the poorest countries in the world. It stands at the forefront of a mobile payment revolution with its ZAAD platform. At over 30 mobile payment transactions a month on average, the average citizen of Somaliland is far ahead of the rest of the world’s average of 8.5 such transactions per capita per month.

Perhaps the most dramatic nudge toward “less cash” was experienced recently in India. Last November, the Indian government made a high-risk, high-stakes move by demonetizing the 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes, in effect voiding 86% of cash in circulation. Their initial aim was to root out corruption and illegal activity funded by cash. New 500 and 2,000 rupee banknotes were issued, so consumers had to go to a bank and exchange their demonetized currency.

In a country that is almost 90% reliant on cash, this move led to disrupted enterprises, unpaid wages and long lines at banks. Mobile wallet players were the unqualified winners of the decision, with market leader Paytm claiming a 435% increase in traffic and a 250% increase in overall transactions and transaction value.

However, despite the surge in mobile payments after demonetization, cash in India remains resilient. In March, five months after demonetization, cash withdrawals were actually 0.6 percent higher than a year earlier.

The future of cash

What explains the resilience of cash, despite its costs and a growing array of alternatives?

Cash is unique among payment instruments in that anyone can transact, any time, any place, with no third parties involved. With this freedom comes strong privacy protection. Currency neither knows nor cares who holds it or when and where a transaction occurred. People have a visceral sense of security when they have cash with them. Much of this sentiment was uncovered in our Cost of Cash studies spanning multiple countries.

These thresholds will, of course, evolve as our societies become more digitally native. However, old habits and perceptions take a long time to turn over. Some merchants will resist the costs of new equipment or fees that accompany cash alternatives. Cash is also considered more convenient and versatile, while with digital transactions there’s always concerns about hacking and fraud.

So, no matter where we are in the world, let us celebrate the ATM’s half-century of service. The human connection with cash will be hard to break. Though cash may become less popular, rest assured that there will always be someone who will stop you in the street asking for directions to the nearest ATM. – Written by Bhaskar ChakravortiSenior Associate Dean, International Business & Finance, Tufts University

Originally published in The Conversation

The Conversation

Opinion

Xenophobia: Time For Cool Heads To Prevail In Nigeria And South Africa

Published

on

By

The latest xenophobic attacks in South Africa have ignited the long-standing tensions between the country and Nigeria. These are captured in the retaliatory attacks on South African businesses in Nigeria and the diplomatic outrage by Nigerian authorities.

Nigeria also boycotted the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Cape Town. More critical was the temporary closure of South African missions in Abuja and Lagos and Nigeria’s decision to recall its ambassador.

But in the larger scheme of things, xenophobia is a distraction from the leadership role that Nigeria and South Africa should play on the continent on fundamental issues of immigration and economic integration.

READ MORE | There Will Be Blood, Brother

A constant irritant

Accurate figures are hard to get. But Statistics South Africa put the number of Nigerian migrants at about 30,000 in 2016, far below Zimbabweans and Mozambicans.

Xenophobia has remained a constant irritant in Nigeria-South Africa relations since the major attacks on African migrants in poor neighbourhoods in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg in 2008 and 2015.

But, contrary to popular perception, xenophobic attacks do not disproportionately target Nigerians. Nigerians often exaggerate the effect of violence on their citizens. That is probably because Nigeria has a better organised, savvy, and loud diaspora constituency in South Africa.

Unfortunately, the loudness of the Nigerian diaspora transforms victimhood into foreign policy, generating the reactions that have been witnessed recently. It also plays into the naïve narrative of the “liberation dividend”. This entails Nigerians seeking to be treated uniquely because of their contribution to the struggle for majority rule in South Africa. There were no such expectations from the other countries that supported South Africa’s liberation struggle.

READ MORE | Slave auctions in Libya are the latest evidence of a reality for migrants the EU prefers to ignore

This narrative has taken on an equally economic tinge. South African companies are heavily invested in Nigeria. So, they often become targets of Nigerian ire in times of xenophobia.

The accurate picture is that xenophobia affects all African migrants. These are mostly migrants from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and, increasingly Ethiopians, Kenyans and Somalis. Nigerians are affected. But they’re not on top of the list.

The Nigerian responses are understandable in light of the frequency of these attacks. But, it is important to probe the drivers of xenophobia to understand it more deeply.

What drives xenophobia?

First, some studies reveal that the intrusion of foreign migrants into vulnerable communities beset by joblessness and despair inevitability produces a tinderbox that sparks violence .

Migrants are easy targets. That’s because they are seen as being better off by the locals. They therefore become targets of people who feel their circumstances have not been addressed by government. It is no surprise that xenophobic attacks have typically occurred in poor neighbourhoods that have been affected by service delivery protests since the mid-2000s.

Second, xenophobia thrives on ineffective policing in South Africa. Barely two days after the Johannesburg attacks started, the national police spokesman admitted that the police were running out of resources to manage the violence. This prompted the Premier of Gauteng, the country’s economic hub, to threaten to also deploy the army if the violence continued.

READ MORE | Why Nigerian Doctors Grab Opportunities Abroad

Examples of the police’s inability to maintain order and respond to threats to property and livelihoods are legion. This, in part, forces people to take the law into their own hands.

But the police are sometimes complicit in stoking anti-foreign sentiments. The July 2019 raids on foreign-owned businesses in Johannesburg in apparent efforts to stamp out illicit goods added to the current climate of xenophobia. When some business owners retaliated against the police, some local leaders appropriated the language of “threats on South Africa’s sovereignty” to justify the police response.

Reforms are urgently needed to create a competent, less corrupt, better-resourced, and civic-minded police service.

Xenophobia is also an outcome of a rickety migration and border control regime. Efficient border controls are one of the hallmarks of sovereignty and the first line of defence against xenophobia. Broken borders breed criminality. These include human and drug trafficking. Human and drug trafficking feature prominently in the discourse on xenophobia in South Africa.

How, then, does xenophobia distract South Africa and Nigeria from what should be their leadership on core African issues?

Overreaction

The weighty issues of creating a humane and just society for South Africans and migrants alike will ultimately be led by the South African government. Outsiders can make some diplomatic noises and occasionally boycott South Africa. But these actions are unlikely to drive vital change.

In fact, the overreactions by Nigeria and other African countries simply undercut the South African constituencies that have a crucial stake in wide-ranging reforms that address the multiplicity of problems around xenophobia.

In the previous instances of xenophobic violence, Nigeria urged the African Union (AU) to force South Africa to take action. But such unhelpful statements only inflame passions and prevent civil diplomatic discourse.

Instead, the best policy would be for Nigeria to engage South Africa through their existing binational commission. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is scheduled to visit South Africa next month.

Taking the lead

Rather than the perennial relapse into shouting matches and hardening of rhetoric, it is essential for Pretoria and Abuja to take decisive leadership at the continental level. The two nations must articulate immigration policies.

The newly-inaugurated AU Free Movement of Persons Protocol will not be implemented if South Africa and Nigeria do not join hands to make it a reality. More ominously, migration to South Africa as the premier African economy will only get worse in the coming years. This, as Europe and the United States tighten their borders against African migrants.

Also, without the leadership of its two major economies, Africa is not going to make any traction on the new treaty establishing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Ironically, the WEF meeting in Cape Town addressed ways to boost intra-African trade. Nigeria should not have boycotted it because of xenophobia.

-Gilbert M. Khadiagala; Jan Smuts Professor of International Relations and Director of the African Centre for the Study of the United States (ACSUS), University of the Witwatersrand

The Conversation

Continue Reading

Opinion

It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine

Published

on

By

Africa has many reasons to be optimistic; this year has seen a raft of new elections, economies are growing in amid an uncertain economic climate and new measures such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement promise new solutions to the age-old problem of Africa’s economic integration.

The recent decision of US investment bank Goldman Sachs to apply for a South Africa banking licence, and the effects of US and Chinese e-commerce giants to develop footholds in African markets, are just two examples in 2019 of how attractive the region has become for those with skill, knowledge and patience.

Much is made of Africa’s population being the youngest in the world. Undoubtedly, this poses challenges, most specifically, in terms of finding gainful employment and decent livelihoods for a growing number of people.

READ MORE | Creators Rather Than Consumers

During my time at the World Economic Forum, my impression of the continent’s youth has been overwhelmingly positive, a mixture of awe at the entrepreneurial spirit and inspiration at the determination felt by younger generations to overcome long-standing barriers and collaborate across cities, countries and ethnic lines to forge a better future.

Add the fourth industrial revolution into the mix and the picture starts to look interesting. Success in this new age of economic development is by no means assured: barriers to entry can be considerable and investment in new technologies – not just development but equally importantly implementation – inevitably brings failure as well as success. 

While none of these risks must be discounted, the next phase of humanity’s growth and development will be built on entrepreneurial talent and this Africa has in rich abundance.

READ MORE | Towards An Open World Economy

Since its launch in 2007, M-Pesa, the mobile payments system developed initially for the Kenyan and Ugandan telecommunications market, has served as a symbol for African innovation and ability to leapfrog generations of technology.

Twelve years on, the system is providing benefits to investors and consumers across the emerging world but it is by no means alone. This year’s billion-dollar listing of home-grown e-commerce giant Jumia is only the latest success in Africa’s burgeoning technology landscape.

With this in mind, the question I find myself asking more and more these days is not ‘how do we identify Africa’s next entrepreneurial superstars’, but ‘how do we help Africa’s entrepreneurial superstars scale up and fulfil their potential?’

While private investors, corporate intrapreneurs, foundations, development agencies and governments have all played an active role in helping get the region’s best and brightest entrepreneurial talents, the priority now is to help this new generation of wealth creators and employers reach a critical mass of scale so they can compete across borders and employ the kinds of numbers that will help provide livelihoods for a growing workforce.

How do we do this? For one thing, it will require action on the part of government. There are a number of ways governments can improve the enabling environment just by drawing on existing best practices across the region.

Reforms such as cutting red tape and making it easier to start a business: too often, it takes weeks where it should be days or even hours. Other successful ‘quick win’ policy innovations include offering tax breaks and concessions on labor laws for businesses whose revenues or workforces are below a certain size.

Shielding businesses from the harshest challenges of the open market during their formative years would be beneficial to governments in terms of value once they are able to stand on their own two feet.

Building a platform for Africa’s gazelles, high-growth companies capable of sustaining high rates of year-on-year growth, will be a key aim of the World Economic Forum on Africa 2019.

 Africa’s future lies in increased integration and interaction within its own borders as well as overseas.

Just as the gazelle is an iconic form on the African landscape, Africa’s own tech gazelles need to define their own identity in the fourth industrial revolution.

Elsie Kanza is Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum.

Continue Reading

Opinion

Challenging The Gender Divide

Published

on

By

In recent years there has been significant improvements towards empowering women in Africa and the Middle East (AME). Despite these steps towards inclusion, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap index , it will take more than 150 years to close the gender gap between men and women in Africa and the Middle East.

The effect of gender divide means women often face barriers and end up in insecure, low-wage jobs, and constitute a small minority of those in senior positions.

The divide hasn’t gone unnoticed. Regional governments are increasingly moving ahead with progressive policies and legislation, whilst Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been instrumental in providing women with new skills and spurring attitudinal change.

A solid foundation has been laid for women to maximise their potential, however government legislation and NGOs will not suffice if we are to truly level the playing field. For this to occur, the private sector must be engaged as a key partner to deliver on female equity.

READ MORE | Lack Of Opportunities For Women At Work – Not Talent

To begin with the public sector, governments across the region have moved to increase female participation in the workplace in recent years. In the UAE, the government recently passed a resolution to increase women’s representation in the Federal National Council (FNC) to 50 percent , whilst South Africa President, Cyril Ramaphosa has just announced that government plans and budgets will have to include gender-specific delivery targets.

Governments across the region have also been instrumental in introducing legislation to encourage women both in, and into, the workplace. For instance, Lebanon has increased paid maternity leave from 49 to 70 days.

Progressive policies are not only helping women enter and stay in the workforce, but in the long-term will have a positive impact on the region’s GDP. In the GCC alone, some estimates tout a 50 percent boost to economic output if women participate in the workforce to the same extent as men.

READ MORE | Fight for Gender Equality at UN Faces Tough Internal Resistance, Report Says

International organisations have also contributed to significant advances in female economic empowerment across Africa and the Middle East, with a significant impact on attitudes towards equality. The United Nations (UN) has led this charge, with gender equality high up on its agenda as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the Middle East, UN Women awarded 200 youth volunteers at HeForShe for reaching 20,000 commitments on women’s empowerment , and in Africa, the organisation aims to empower up to two million women through various initiatives aimed at increasing income, wealth and business leadership skills.

Beyond the UN, a large number of international organisations have also been instrumental in empowering women across the AME region. Oxfam, for example, has launched a global campaign called Raising Her Voice (RHV) which aims to promote women’s rights.

This included a budget in Pakistan of over US$500,000 between the years of 2008-2013 . In South Africa, the RHV campaign received roughly US$50,000 annually for training and workshops that involved feminism and advocacy skills .

Local NGO initiatives have also been key in the advancement of female inclusion throughout the AME region. As an example, five Lebanese NGOs and the Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB) teamed up in 2016 to form Girls Got IT, an NGO to provide female students with access to hands-on tech workshops, talks by industry leaders and tutorials on digital innovation.

READ MORE | ‘Gender Parity Will Come Sooner’

To take but one of many examples from Africa, a Tanzanian NGO called ‘Village Enterprise’ works on ending extreme poverty by helping women in rural areas through entrepreneurship and innovation. The group has been working successfully and achieved a milestone of one million lives transformed in May 2019 .

It’s clear that governments and civil society have done much to integrate women into AME economies, positively affecting millions of lives along the way. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. Female labour force participation rates vary widely among African states, with South Africa at 49 percent and Tanzania at 80 percent.

On the other hand, in the GCC, women comprise just 19.2 percent of the workforce according to one study . In this context, the private sector, with all of its economic might, constitutes perhaps the most crucial element in addressing the balance. A recent study by Deloitte showed that Africa’s private sector represents 75 percent of generated wealth and 90 percent of all employment opportunities in the continent .

Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that companies are stepping up across AME and pursuing a concerted effort to empower women with new skills and opportunities. Standard Chartered stands as a case in point.

The Bank has committed to raise USD50 million, between 2019 and 2023 through fundraising and Bank-matching, to empower the next generation to learn, earn and grow via its Futuremakers programme.

By no means is Standard Chartered satisfied to merely provide financial donations – it also actively implements women’s empowerment programmes such as Women in Tech, aimed at promoting the economic and social development of women entrepreneurs.

To date, this programme operates in five countries with entrepreneurial female participants from Pakistan, Nigeria, the US, the UAE and my home country, Kenya. The Bank is also committed to creating a more inclusive environment to help working parents balance work and family responsibilities; its staff can enjoy the benefit of flexible working policy, a parental paid leave of up to 140 calendar days for the mother and two weeks for the spouse.

Achieving gender equality is an important moral principle and acts as a catalyst to other development outcomes such as poverty reduction, well-being and health. Governments and NGO’s have been active in empowering women; however, change will take a collective partnership between government, NGO’s and private enterprise across the region to elevate women to an equal status.

The outcome of maximising women’s potential and achieving gender equality will result in greater contributions being made and benefits to the entire region.

-Olga Arara-Kimani, Regional Head of Corporate Affairs, Brand & Marketing for Standard Chartered in Africa and the Middle East

Continue Reading

Trending