Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest telecoms operator, on Monday made a commitment to waive transaction costs on mobile money transfers under 1,000 shillings ($10) for customers on its mobile money platform, M-Pesa. Also, Airtel Kenya waived transaction charges on transfer from mobile wallet to bank accounts on Tuesday, 17th of March. Airtel also increased the limits subscribers can hold in their wallet from $300 to $ 1,400.
These new measures are in line with the government’s cashless payment agenda which seeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has encouraged people to use e-payment services because it would cut down on the handling of cash. To that effect, “the Central Bank of Kenya has also approved an increase of the daily transaction limit to 300,000 shillings per person from the current 140,000 shillings” Safaricom said in a statement.
The move by the network operator is laudable and sets an example for other corporates to follow in terms of partnering with governments on issues of national urgency. But beyond this, it brings to light the crucial role fintech can play in times of epidemic outside of their traditional role of providing financial services and the development of products for digital inclusion.
M-Pesa is widely used by over 20 million subscribers in Kenya’s 47 million population. The wide embrace of fintech is also reflected across the continent. A report shows that mobile money has been one of the most revolutionary technologies launched in Africa in recent years.
Digital financial services have become the leading driver of financial inclusion for the unbanked in the region. As of 2018, Nigeria had approximately 172 million phone subscribers from a population of 203 million, which gives 90 percent of its citizen’s access to digital transactions on their phones. Also, in Uganda, the 2018 FINSCOPE report indicated a 78 percent surge in the country’s financial inclusion rate majorly supported by mobile money services. This represents 14.4 million Ugandans.
Public health experts are raising the need to shift towards cashless payments to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns the virus can be transmitted to customers via banknotes and coins. According to CNBC, in China, where the COVID-19 pandemic began, banks now disinfect cash with ultraviolet or heat treatments in February to prevent the further spread of the virus.
A report shows that cash is notoriously covered in germs, suggesting that paper bills can contain bacteria and viruses, plus lead to the spread of diseases. Citing a country’s federal reserve, the study also stated that the lifespan of various bills ranges from four to fifteen years, affording the banknotes a lot of time to accumulate germs.
It is important to note that the COVID-19 doesn’t spread by penetrating the skin on your hands. According to Michael Knight, in an interview with a news agency, “getting coronavirus, or other respiratory viruses like influenza, on your hands only leads to infection when it is transferred from your hand to places like your mouth, nose or eyes.” Knight is as Assistant Professor of Medicine at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Currently, Kenya has only 3 cases of coronavirus while the pandemic is spreading fast across the continent as governments react with several drastic measures. The promotion of cashless transfers could go a long way in slowing down the spread of the virus and should be considered as part of ways to curb the pandemic. This is where fintech platforms come in.
This idea, however, may not be applicable in all 30 African countries affected by the virus especially those that are yet to embrace digital banking services such as Ghana, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Mali. And not all transactions can be carried out digitally.