ATMs challenges

Amira Hisham, Friday 11 Aug 2023

Egypt has been promoting e-payments since the enactment of Law 18/2019 to foster greater financial inclusion and expand the cashless economy.

Bank Misr
Financial inclusion rates inceased by 147 per cent in the past five years

 

An important move within this framework was the government agencies ceasing to accept cash payments for their services exceeding LE500 since 2021. Such payments need to be made via debit, credit, or prepaid cards, or other forms of e-payment.

However, many people seeking to pay bills to government entities do not have e-payment cards, and this has led some to station themselves in front of government offices to offer their e-payment cards in exchange for a kind of commission ranging between LE50 and LE100. 

One such individual was standing in Nasr City’s medical compound this week. “I offer my visa card to people who want to get their business done for LE100,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The only e-card I have is the one on which I receive my monthly salary. I was told it doesn’t feature the option of paying electronically. This is why I resorted to asking a man standing in front of the building who had a visa card to help me. I had to pay him in cash in return,” one man told the Weekly when he was renewing his driving licence at the relevant government department.

One of the used cards is the Meeza which was developed by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) after a decision by the National Council for Payments, which sought to establish a framework featuring a nationally branded system for government payments and the allocation of monetary and non-monetary subsidies.

As financial inclusion means giving all citizens access to financial services, the simplicity of completing bank-related transaction is in the core of it. Nevertheless, opening an account with a bank in Egypt entails procedures that include, in the case of male applicants, the submission of salary records and proof of the origin of income. Female applicants are obliged to provide their salary records. If they are unemployed, they must submit the salary records of their husband. If they are unmarried, they must submit the records of their father.

Gamal Wagdi, a banking adviser in Cairo, said “there should be no prerequisites on the opening of bank accounts. Complicating the process of opening an account contradicts with the guidelines of the CBE.”

Prior to the launch of the CBE’s Financial Inclusion Strategy 2022-2025, it held numerous discussions with the ministries and government bodies concerned to settle on a general framework.

The strategy includes multiple goals, prime among them bolstering trust in the banking sector, increasing people’s financial knowledge, and promoting entrepreneurship and emerging projects. 

The government is committed to extending financial inclusion to all parts of Egyptian society, including the most underprivileged and impoverished groups.

Although there may be restrictions on opening bank accounts, pensioners and their dependents receive monthly entitlements via a Meeza card, as do the 20 million recipients of the Takaful and Karama conditional cash support programmes.

Expanding access to banking services and ensuring financial inclusion for all, irrespective of their financial capacity, is an urgent requirement, Wagdi said. 

Bank accounts and financial inclusion tools can also help the state understand the informal economy better, with this amounting to a minimum of 50 per cent of financial operations in Egypt, he added.

Economist Ali Abdel-Raouf Al-Idrissi hailed the development of greater financial inclusion, saying that the Covid-19 pandemic had played a role in this process. The pandemic had prompted citizens to limit their use of cash to prevent infection through the use of physical currency, and extended periods of staying at home had compelled them to complete their financial transactions electronically, he added.

Egypt’s banking system, represented by the CBE, developed numerous financial inclusion tools and provided facilities such as allowing withdrawals from ATMs without fees during the pandemic. 

Five million public sector employees receive their salaries through bank cards, in addition to the private-sector workforce.

According to the CBE’s financial inclusion indicators in April 2022, the period from 2016-2022 witnessed a 147 per cent leap in the financial inclusion rates, bringing the total ownership of transactional accounts, like bank account and Egypt Post accounts, to 42.3 million citizens, representing 64 per cent of the total 65.4 million eligible adults.  

Al-Idrissi and Wagdi agree that the challenges facing financial inclusion in Egypt are increased by the lack of public awareness.

The InstaPay application, a significant leap forward in financial inclusion, enables instant and secure transfers of funds to either a bank account or an electronic wallet free of charge. But it remains largely unknown to many people, Al-Idrissi said.

Wagdi stressed the importance of greater financial awareness. “There are still people who are unable to withdraw money from ATMs on their own and rely on others, such as passers-by, to help them to do so,” he said.

 “The government has mandated pensions withdrawals through ATMs. This was initially challenging for some citizens, but later it became routine.”

“The state needs to strengthen the financial infrastructure and ensure the proper maintenance of ATMs across different banks to avoid issues such as the inability to retrieve cards or obtain replacements in cases where the machines don’t return the card to the holder,” Wagdi said.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 10 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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