e-zwich is functional nationwide — Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement System (GhIPSS)

The Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement System (GhIPSS), the body which has been charged to drive a cashless economy in the country, is putting in place various measures to ensure widespread use of its e-zwich biometric smartcard.

The card, which enables users to use their fingerprints to access funds or make cashless purchases, has been proven to be a sure means to ensure convenience, security against theft and burglary and fraud in payment systems.

The e-zwich card was the first product GhIPSS rolled out and it has since increased the pace of point-of-sale devices deployment to deepen the use of the cards across the country.

CEO clears misconceptions

The Chief Executive Officer of GhIPSS, Mr Archie Hesse, said in Accra that the e-zwich system was functional in all banks across the country, including rural and community banks ,as well as savings and loans companies.

These financial institutions are the partners of GhIPSS which issue the cards in their banking halls and also deploy PoS devices to merchants. However, due to the slow penetration of the PoS devices, GhIPSS has gone out of its way to pre-finance the devices for distribution to merchant sales points.

The chief executive officer explained that the number of cards in circulation, usage and merchants with the PoS devices as well as the amount of cash held on the biometric smart cards had each increased exponentially in value and volume, thus defeating any suggestions that the system was dysfunctional.

Mr Hesse said loading funds onto the card could be done with any bank at any branch, and that it could work offline when it comes to making payments.

“It is biometric based so you don’t need a PIN (personal identification numbers). This is because we felt that for us to bank the unbanked there is the need for us to come out with a system that is biometric driven,” Mr Hesse stated, adding that nobody could use the card except the owner.

Mr Hesse further explained that the cards served as a savings account which sat with the banks and not with GhIPSS which only served as a facilitator, running the checks and matching the fingerprints.

e-zwich offline

But Mr Hesse said GhIPSS carefully chose a system which could work offline and was biometric based in line with the large informal sector and unbanked population.

He said the GhIPSS did not keep the funds within its system but only acted as the interface during biometric checks on the card and system to ensure that only workers whose fingerprints matched the cards would be certified to receive salaries, while any discrepancies detected would be returned to the CAGD for validation before payments were effected.

That way, he explained, only qualified people would receive payments, making the system one of the best for checking the so-called ‘ghost names’ which has for long bogged the public sector payroll.

Mass deployment

The e-zwich biometric card has been used for the payment of salaries for certain public entities and has helped to reduce fraud and waste in those payments. Notable among them are the National Service Scheme, the Youth Entrepreneurship Agency (YEA), some cocoa farmers and some bulk cement dealers. 

Discussions are far advanced between GhIPSS and the Controller and Accountant General’s Department to use the biometric cards to pay all public sector workers.

Currently, the negotiations have settled on moving about 10 per cent of workers’ salaries onto the cards, while retaining 90 per cent in their bank accounts.

This would be a major boost to the transition into a cash-lite society towards a totally cashless economy.

There have been some dissents with the mass deployment of the cards across public sector workers, starting with the Greater Accra Region as pilot. Critics believe the e-zwich system was dysfunctional, with the system always down.

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