Digitizing Payments in the Time of COVID19 and Beyond

  • April 29, 2020

  • Brussels, Belgium


UNCDF organized a webinar last Monday to discuss how fast-tracking digital payments at a time of crisis can be crucial in delivering aid and in post-crisis recovery.

Three speakers from the UNCDF Inclusive Digital Economies team, Ali Akram, Sabine Mensah and Jaspreet Singh, were invited to share their experience and expertise with over 300 participants who tuned in to join the webinar.

The objective of the webinar was to deliver an idea of what one should consider when deciding to digitize payments in a time of crisis such as COVID-19. Some of the topics discussed included the necessary infrastructure for digital solutions to be leveraged efficiently, the implementation and onboarding processes, and the importance of working closely with regulators and private sector actors to ensure delivery and sustainability during the crisis, as well as beyond.

Sabine Mensah began the seminar by giving a stark reminder of how during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, more people died due to the lack of social services rather than the virus itself. With over 20 years of experience in digital finance, she emphasized that customers should be at the centre of digital payments initiatives.

“We need to understand the client to make sure the solutions we are engineering, or reengineering are adapted to the impact we want, particularly in a crisis situation,” Mensah stated.

She also cited data from GSMA’s recent report on Mobile Money where there are 1 billion registered mobile money accounts globally, and called on stakeholders to leverage this channel to meet the needs of last-mile populations.

Having been present during the Nepal earthquake in 2015, Jaspreet Singh spoke about the need for a quick response during the crisis, on delivering benefits that matched the readiness of the market and considering options that are available to respond properly. Singh noted that different levels of government and humanitarian organizations have to work together on delivering solutions and reaching last-mile populations.

Flexibility is another key aspect in times of crisis. Ali Akram, who was the digital finance technical specialist during the Ebola outbreak, stated that “One of the key learnings from Ebola is that emergency payments should be a cross-cutting tool for response and recovery, not a siloed-vertical.” Considering that COVID-19 is comparable to Ebola in the sense that it crossed transnational borders, Akram emphasized the need to take coordinated transnational actions to deliver impactful solutions. Akram and Singh both agreed that there is no perfect plan or time for digitizing payments. There are many variables to consider, especially during an evolving situation, such as that of COVID-19.

When asked to share final thoughts, all three speakers agreed on the importance of working closely with regulators and service providers to drive the processes at a quicker pace. UNCDF plays a unique convening role with over a decade of experience in facilitating such public private dialogues for digital financial inclusion at the last mile. Digital financial services – mobile money in particular - are spreading and offering great avenues to reach people who are excluded from formal financial systems and are economically vulnerable.

Stay tuned to learn more about how UNCDF is supporting the response to the COVID-19 pandemic with SafeBoda in Uganda, Diagnose Me in Burkina Faso and much more.

In case you were not able to attend, the webinar recording is available here. You can also download the presentation here.