Retailers have also made concerted efforts in various sectors to encourage online transactions.

Over the past five years, two unrelated financial announcements touching on the transition into a cashless society have been made.

First, Deutsche Bank’s former CEO John Cryan predicted that cash probably wouldn’t exist in ten years while speaking during the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos.

In the second incident, Absa South Africa, in November 2020, announced that as of December 31, 2020, they will no longer issue, encash or deposit cheques.

In their discontinuation of cheques as a payment method, Absa, one of Africa’s leading financial services providers claimed high incidences of fraud and theft related to cheques, coupled with South Africans opting for the convenience and safety of digital payments over the past years.

Since then, other South African Banks have announced a significant reduction in the use of cheque transactions.

While these two announcements were made years apart, they point to an emerging trend — a shift to a cashless society and the rise of digital payment.

Across the globe, moving to a cashless society has been a central discourse for over a decade. Driven by the ever-changing consumer behaviour and through policies and initiatives that limit cash usage and encourage electronic transactions, online payment has remained a topical issue.

According to UK banking and financial services sector data, debit card payments overtook cash payments for the first time in Britain in June 2018. A similar trend is also being experienced in Sweden, where 60 percent of consumer transactions are non-cash.

Read also: How forward-looking IFRS 9 shows risk structure in Kenyan banks

In the East, India has taken a more direct move towards a cashless society.

In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed 86 percent of his country’s currency from circulation by taking out all 500 rupee and 1,000-rupee notes.

The sudden demonetization was justified as a bid to curb tax evasion corruption and shut down what the Modi administration called the ‘black money’ economy.

Canada, France, China, and Australia, are also increasingly adopting non-cash payments and technology – leading some experts to predict that ‘cashless societies’ may exist before the end of this decade.

Although cash still reigns supreme in the vast majority of African countries, it may be phased out sooner rather than later. With the pandemic, the transition to a cashless society appears to be gaining momentum in the continent.

At the outset of the pandemic, central banks and lenders across Africa took appropriate precautionary steps to limit Covid-19 transmission via notes and coins.

Besides disinfecting the notes, the financial sector made various public sensitization campaigns to encourage electronic payments.

In Kenya, banks zero-rated bank-to-mobile and mobile-to-bank transactions to increase the usage of digital channels instead of cash to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.

Retailers have also made concerted efforts in various sectors to encourage online transactions. Merchants have adjusted to this trend by providing contactless terminals or QR-codes in-store, exclusively selling online, or a combination of both.

In essence, the pandemic brought about a massive shift to digital transactions and payments — one that is unlikely to wane even with the economies’ phased reopening and an increasing number of people feeling comfortable returning to in-person transactions.

It’s widely predicted that long after Covid-19 will no longer be in the news, consumers will still demand the ease, speed, and security of digital payments.

Interestingly, online payments have also opened up new possibilities for faster, seamless, and easy transactions for corporates and the government.

Cash management can be very painful and expensive, depending on the nature of the business. For traders in restaurants, petrol stations, and even entertainment spots like nightclubs, the cost of handling cash can be tasking, coupled with an inventory management nightmare. 

On the other hand, financial institutions are distinctly interested in increasing the share of cashless transactions made by customers, as this brings a lot of precious data that can be converted into sales, used to assess risks, and cultivate customer loyalty through innovative and personalized offerings.

As for the governments, digital payments promise fewer transactions that evade the radar and tax avoidance, lower crime by tracking suspicious transactions, and improved financial reporting.

Removing the expenses and dangers associated with cash is thus part of a more significant push for business efficiency in both the private and governmental sectors.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to hasten the shift, regulators, merchants, financial institutions, and, most crucially, agile fintech firms must all work together to build an inclusive cashless society. And it must be done in a way that considers the requirements of small enterprises and the unbanked in the community.

Although the future of payment appears to be leaning toward increased digitalization, as innovators, our focus must be on providing society with the tools it needs to adapt and grow regardless of the environment.

The author, Mr Kevin Khaemba, is the Head of Sales at global payments company Pesapal

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