USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah and Afghanistan’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Amirzai Sangin test a mobile money application at the launch of USAID’s Mobile Money project in Kabul, 2011.
Today the government of Afghanistan announced that it has joined the Better Than Cash Alliance by committing to transition significant volumes of cash payments to electronic. The Better Than Cash Alliance works with governments, the development community and the private sector to adopt the use of electronic payments and provides resources to those who commit to make the transition. This is an initiative founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), U.N. Capital Development Fund, and Visa Inc.
Today 2.5 billion adults — more than a third of the world’s population — are excluded from the formal financial sector. This is most acute in the developing world where approximately 80 percent of poor people are excluded. As a result, most poor households have no option but to subsist almost entirely in an informal, cash-only economy, making it extraordinarily difficult f1or them to access financial services like bank accounts to save for the future, build assets or get credit. Electronic payments can create lasting benefits for people by creating opportunities to access formal financial services and begin to develop assets and save for the future.
Currently, the Ministry of Finance is partnering with the Ministry of Education and the Association of Mobile Money Operators on an innovative teacher salary payment pilot that aims to increase the number of bank accounts and electronic salary payments. The government is also conducting a mobile/electronic utility payment pilot in Kabul targeting 100,000 electricity customers.
The shift to electronic payments in programs that currently distribute cash or in-kind goods to people living in poverty can result in significant cost savings, transparency, security, and economic growth. For example, a recent report by the World Bank found that governments can save up to 75 percent of costs by shifting to electronic payment programs.
“We are pleased to join the Better Than Cash Alliance as a committing member dedicated to making the transition from cash to electronic payments,” said Mohammed Aqah, Director General of Treasury, Ministry of Finance in Afghanistan. “We recognize the value of accelerating the use of safe electronic payments as a solution for promoting financial inclusion, increasing transparency and creating a more secure world for women and their families.”
At the end of 2012, more than 70 percent of Afghanistan government employees received their salaries electronically, whereas in 2006 this was less than 1 percent. The government of Afghanistan has made substantial progress in transitioning from cash to electronic payments, but there are many opportunities that still remain. While fewer than 5 percent of Afghans have bank accounts, some 65 percent have mobile phones and nearly 90 percent of the population lives in areas with mobile network coverage. The government of Afghanistan is committed to further expanding the coverage of electronic payments and making the process more efficient.
“We welcome the government of Afghanistan to the Alliance and look forward to supporting its commitment to empower citizens by transitioning to electronic payments,” said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen managing director of the Better Than Cash Alliance. “There are real benefits for governments of increased transparency, accountability and security as well as increased efficiency and cost reduction in the long-term. But perhaps the greatest benefit goes to those citizens for whom reduced costs in time and money make a big difference, to those for whom security is paramount and to those who can use electronic payments to start to save and take advantage of economic opportunities.”
Afghanistan joins the governments of Colombia, Kenya, Peru, and the Philippines, along with development organizations USAID, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme, Mercy Corps, CARE USA, Chemonics International, and Concern Worldwide, which have committed to digitize their disbursements and payments to people living in poverty, thereby becoming eligible members for technical and financial support from the Better Than Cash Alliance.
To join the Better Than Cash Alliance a government, company or organization must:
- Make a new commitment to digitize their disbursement of payments.
- Designate senior staff member(s) to create and implement a change management program to reduce physical cash payments.
- Share lessons learned with the Better Than Cash Alliance to inspire and equip others to overcome transition challenges.
As a partner, organizations will be:
- Eligible for technical assistance and/or funding to support the transition, if needed.
- Recognized for leadership in Better Than Cash Alliance publications and media.
- Invited to participate in learning opportunities as appropriate.
- Given access to the latest research and case studies about lessons learned and what’s working for other Better Than Cash Alliance programme partners.
About Better Than Cash Alliance
To learn more, visit www.betterthancash.org and follow @BetterThan_Cash