From left: Lanka Clear (Pvt.) Ltd Operations DGM Harsha Wanigatunga, Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Ministry Secretary Wasantha Deshapriya and Lanka Clear (Pvt.) Ltd General Manager/CEO Channa de Silva
Pic by Nisal Baduge
By Zahara Zuhair
As the average number of electronic transactions that happen in the country is only two transactions per point of sale (POS) machine a day, it was recently stressed that much more has to be done to propel electronic transactions in Sri Lanka and to promote digital modes of payments.
“We have roughly about 40,000 POS terminals in the country. If you divide the number of transactions by the number of POS machines in the country, can you guess how many number of card transactions happen on average per POS machine a day? The average is just two. So the issue is, though we have enough cards, still people withdraw cash for payments through ATMs,” LankaClear (Pvt.) Ltd General Manager/CEO Channa de Silva said.
According to a bulletin issued by the Central Bank recently, 17 million debit cards are in use currently. As the population of the country is 20 million and out of that 17 million debit cards are in use, which means 17 million bank accounts are there, de Silva showed that on average 76 percent of the population are using cards.
He said even in the USA, the average as a percentage to the population vs. bank accounts is 60 percent, which is less than Sri Lanka.
“People just prefer to withdraw cash from the ATM for the payment. This is what we need to change and to promote digital modes of payments. There is a huge scope there to carry out, so that’s why we need the banks to take the initiative,” he told at a media briefing held to announce LankaPay Technnovation Awards 2017, held for the first time, with the objective of propelling the use of electronic transactions and enhancing the country’s national payment network.
He said that when they were doing analysis expecting the volume of the cheques in the country to go down with all these electronic payment instruments introduced, it made them to realise that it was only increasing.
“Then we wanted to figure out what was going on, to figure the growth volume in each province. What we found is, in the Western Province, it was slightly going down; in the North and Eastern Provinces drastically it was going up. What that means is people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces put their money in the bank and their first money instrument was the cheque despite the introduction of the digital payment modes,” he said.
However, he said it is good for the country as it shows people having more access to banks.
Meanwhile, he said that with the ‘JustPay’ initiative they introduced last year to facilitate real-time retail payments in the country through digital, they expect to take 20 percent of retail payments into digital modes by 2020.
“What we found from the statistics from the Central Bank and others was almost a three billion volume of transactions that happens a year in the retail sector is in cash. So what we felt was, one of the problems is, it costs the country 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to print, distribute and manage cash. It is a huge cost to the country. So, if we can take 20 percent of cash into this electric mode, we can save 20 percent of 1.5 percent of GDP,” he explained.
He said that with the Common ATM Switch (CAS) they established in 2013, of the 3958 ATM facilities available in the country, currently 99.5 percent of the ATMs are connected to this system.
He said that the remaining 19-20 ATMs that are not connected to the system are foreign banks and he said that they are hoping to connect those also to the system soon. He also said that they would be coming up with a national card scheme, which would help to drastically reduce bank charges.
Talking about the award ceremony, he said that what they are trying to do through the award ceremony is to recognise these banking institutions, which have taken the lead, taken the common infrastructure LankaClear has established and to recognise the banks and financial institutions, which have taken the task to take financial inclusivity to the market.
Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Ministry Secretary Wasantha Deshapriya said that a competition of this nature is very much appropriate, while stressing the need for working towards electronic money.
LankaPay Technnovation Awards would take into account the interbank payments carried out during the period from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017.
All banks and non-banking financial institutions, which are members of the LankaPay network and operating under the supervision of the Central Bank, are eligible for the awards.
The award categories include: Bank of the Year for Customer Convenience, Best Common ATM Acquirer of the Year, Most Innovative Bank of the Year, Most Popular Electronic Payment Product, etc.
It was noted that 47 percent of LankaClear, the operator of LankaPay, Sri Lanka’s national payment network, is owned by the government and the rest 53 percent is owned by the private commercial banks. They said that this is a fine example of a successful public-private partnership in the country.