The Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) directive on cashless is a direction the country needs, which I support 100%. Some may argue that this impacts the poor and the bottom of the pyramid negatively – yes, it does, at first, but in the long run, this is significantly superior to cash and would benefit everyone.
But why would I support an approach many have termed poorly thought through and echoes a military approach that sets many ordinary Nigerians on edge? It’s because sometimes you cannot fling out the baby with the bath water.
Because of the impact on many Nigerians and the poorly received approach by the CBN, several Nigerians are pushing that CBN should suspend the new cashless policy. This is a poor thought, and it’s as flawed as asking Nigerians to stop making phone calls and start shouting to get the attention of their neighbors.
To make cashless successful and for everyone to reap the benefits and growth potential, sacrifices are expected of everyone. And we know that these sacrifices are not trivial.
Of course, the CBN is asking everyone to sacrifice a lot, but what are the CBN and the bankers giving in return?
This is where it gets sketchy and unfairly lopsided. It’s also where the success of cashless is in doubt. If the poor feel taken for a ride and disadvantaged, everyone will find a way to sabotage the cashless policy.
When you consider the CBN’s argument that this would curb kidnapping (a rich man’s problem) and vote buying (a poor man’s opportunity), the chance of success for CBN is severely curtailed.
Cashless would never curb kidnapping – if my loved one were kidnapped, I’m not sure I’m ready to lose them because I don’t want to pay the 5% extra charge on the cash ransom. A politician doesn’t care about the 10% on the N1b he will use to buy votes. The original N1b wasn’t his to start with.
After all, when the Naira fell badly to the USD, the poorer exchange rate was never a problem when politicians bought USD to get votes.
So what exactly can the CBN do? There are three immediate solutions.
CBN should make the electronic transfer free for everyone. But to block abuse, there should be a limit and a monthly cap. Why would this work? It’s simple – the poor, most affected by the cashless, and the elites (the CBN and bank executives), think about money and value differently. Time is expensive for the executives, so paying N50 for the transfer is nothing to them. But for the poor, every kobo counts. They cannot understand why they must pay N50 for a transfer when they can walk to the market and use cash without spending extra.
The CBN should go on a massive campaign to woo Nigerians and not talk down on them. Many Nigerians don’t trust the financial system. They think it’s rigged against them for the benefit of bankers. Many Nigerians are also scared of going to the banks because banks are formal and bankers look scary sometimes.
To make this work, the CBN should create relatable ads and public service announcements using influencers that can cut through the noise and let everyone know the CBN means good.
The CBN should also enforce liability shifts to the banks. Why would this work? Most Nigerians that would be forced to go cashless are digital neophytes, which means the bad actors will take advantage of them. The bankers are the ones that control digital payment services, and it’s their sole responsibility to make it safe and secure for all their customers. Maybe when bankers start paying for these frauds, they will put in more effort to keep everyone safer.
In conclusion, the new cashless policy by the CBN and bankers is a rare opportunity for the Nigerian financial ecosystem to grow and for financial inclusion to bring benefits to Nigerians. But without the bankers and CBN making transactions free (and cheaper) for Nigerians and taking other measures to assuage Nigerians about the benefits of this initiative, it would fail.
This chance is too good to be lost. Let CBN #maketransferfree.