Electronic payment, another use of
mobile phone technology
A GNA feature by Christian Akorlie
Accra, April 15, GNA - One of the most laudable benefits
showing from the recent redenomination of the Cedi has been
the drastic cut in the sheer volumes of physical cash which
Ghanaians were obliged to tug about for payment for goods
and services in their day-to-day affairs.
Until July 2007, a simple transaction such as the payment of
a rent advance of, say, 15 million cedis by an “un-banked”
tenant to an equally un-banked landlord came with serious
security and time implications; that amount, in the old
currency, was simply so voluminous that conveying the money
in public and counting it as payment were in themselves
But shrinking the volumes of the currency even at the same
value turns out to be but a fraction of the remedy for a
much bigger malady plaguing the local payment system and the
way we generally conduct financial transactions in this
Be it re-denominated or not, why must anyone always carry
large sums of paper money on their persons before they may
conclude basic and routine transactions?
Even if the risk of loss or burglary were not real, why must
I journey to some office at the other end of town, my pocket
or wallet stashed with cash, just to pay off my water or
electricity bills or any other utilities for that matter?
Why must I personally show up at some counter or entrance to
offer paper money as payment for simple recreational
services like theatre, a concert or direct satellite
And why must I have hard cash on my person before venturing
into my regular supermarket for domestic supplies? We may
very well wonder why, in 21st Century Ghana, every little
transaction is still so rigidly cash-based.
The stark fact is that, Ghana has lagged way behind most of
the world (including many of its peers in Africa) in the
general quest to boost micro economic activity by reducing
the role played by physical cash in daily transactions and
by encouraging the creation of a cashless society.
Indeed some ground-breaking initiatives like the marginal
use of credit and debit cards and especially the
introduction the E-Zwich are commendable.
However, experts in the financial sector have stressed that
unless something radically innovative, functional and savvy
is introduced, which accounts for attitudes as well as the
huge un-banked population, the country’s dream of building a
functionally cashless society in the shortest possible time
could be elusive.
As many as 80 per cent of Ghana’s population neither has nor
operate a bank account, although the majority of the
“un-banked” are economically active in either the formal or
informal sectors of the economy.
Banked or “un-banked”, it is obvious that the active
population is now hurting under the burden of the
inconveniences and constrictiveness of having to endure
heavy, cumbersome and usually unsafe cash-based payments in
their day-to-day affairs and transactions.
Unfortunately, alternative modes of payment like credit
cards, direct debit cards and even the relatively common
bank cheques, all of which are far less reliant on cash, are
so miserably limited in use and unpopular on the Ghanaian
market that they hardly make any significant impact on the
efficiency and ease of transactions.
In 2008 when Afric Xpress, a global electronic payment
solution specialist, introduced itself onto the Ghanaian
market, announcing its mission of introducing a fast,
reliable and convenient electronic-based payment system to
transform lifestyles and the way Ghanaians conducted
everyday business, there were no sceptics at all, except for
the many market watchers who wondered just how this could be
done – given the fact that not enough Ghanaians (only 20 per
cent of the population) were formally hooked onto the
In very sharp contrast to the rather negligible size of
Ghana’s banked population, there has been a phenomenal
growth in the use and popularity of mobile phones.
With permissible reference to the swarm of mobile telephone
service providers streaming into the country, and the
“aggression” with which they market their products, it may
be fair to state that Ghanaians appear to have overtaken the
rest of the world in embracing this incredible technological
breakthrough of the last century.
From the pitiful national tele-density status of just about
0.7 per cent in 2000, Ghanaians’ access to telephones
rapidly soared to 5.5 per cent by the end of 2003; at the
close of 2008 Ghana’s tele-density had sky rocketed to the
region of 50 per cent.
National Communications Authority (NCA) figures point to an
exponential growth in the number of mobile phone subscribers
from 7,604,053 at the beginning of 2008 to 11,302,647
subscribers by December 2008.
This literally means that at least a whopping 11 million
people, out of Ghana’s population of 22 million, now carry
and use cellular or mobile phones.
The availability, accessibility, simplicity and the sheer
convenience of this revolutionary medium of direct
inter-personal communication has removed not only
geographical barriers but also the prohibitive barriers of
poverty and illiteracy from the communication chain.
That alone should explain why today one can find the
business executive, the fishmonger, the student, the lawyer,
the herdsman, the farmer and the street hawker all using
TOne incredibly innovative application of the mobile phone
technology is its use for the provision of financial
services – a potential which Afric Xpress, has exploited and
incorporated into its high-tech electronic payment system
and which the company says is about to turn every mobile
phone user’s handset into an “electronic wallet”.
Afric Xpress, a global leader in electronic payment solution
which specializes in mobile payments, is introducing into
West Africa, starting with Ghana, its robust and highly
scalable transaction engine designed to provide customers,
merchants and agents with the most convenient means of
paying and receiving payment for goods and services through
their mobile phones …or on the internet.
Afric Xpress is about to launch its product, the “txtNpay” (Eds:
Correct), a secured mobile phone-based payment system which
enables its users to send money to any other person with a
mobile phone, pay utility bills, purchase goods and
services, buy pre-paid phone credits, check their bank
account balance and engage in many more transactions with
The “txtNpay” technology uses an application which is SMS-based
and essentially consists of an electronic platform that is
directly accessed from the customer’s mobile handset.
The “txtNpay” product operates along a smooth interface with
telecom companies, local banks utility companies, internet
tertiary institutions a network of supermarkets and social
service providers and an extensive chain of merchant outlets
across the capital. Its transactions are strictly automated,
cashless and run in real-time.
“Our company’s mission is to bring transformational and
innovative mobile phone-based payment solutions to the
Ghanaian market and subsequently the rest of West Africa in
order to build an electronic payment network which will
virtually turn every mobile phone into a payment device,”
Marie Dominique Aboukan, Afric Xpress’ Director of Sales and
“Our ultimate goal is to empower our clientele, whether they
are banked or not, by offering them flexible, convenience,
real-time and secured payment solutions and eventually
create an effective mobile commerce environment capable of
catalyzing business in Ghana and the rest of the
sub-region,” Aboukan added.
The “txtNpay” mobile technology is poised to make positive
waves on the Ghanaian financial market as the results of its
recent pilots and trials strongly indicate.
Well over 2,000 students had signed up by the end of a
month’s pilot of txtNpay on the campus of the University of
Ghana and an huge 97 per cent success rate was registered in
transactions involving students who used their cell phones
to buy top-up credits, pre-pay for their meals at the Volta
dinning hall, Basement Plus, Odo Rice and also pay for
running photocopies and other various services around
txtNpay’s encouraging positioning and future prospects may
also be attributed to the fact that many people are familiar
with Afric Xpress’ strong international heritage and may be
aware that the technology itself is not entirely new to
Many Ghanaians may have already experienced the benefits and
convenience of mobile phone-based payments in countries like
South Africa, Kenya and the DR Congo where the technology is
very much en vogue.
Indeed it may be unfair to designate Ghana as an entirely
virgin turf in mobile phone service delivery because at one
time or the other, a number of local banks introduced basic
forms of mobile phone services, including account balance
enquiry, money transfer within the same bank and even
customer airtime top-ups.
The txtNpay platform is so efficient and effective that it
lends itself to a wide range of innovative services capable
of stimulating micro-economic activity in the Ghanaian
“For starters, however, the key services that we (Afric
Xpress) have packaged for our customers are hospitality
management solutions, national and international mobile
phone top-ups, utility bill payments, peer-to peer money
transfers, point of sale purchases and electronic or on-line
gift vouchers,” said Dominique Aboukan.
After the impressive pilots and market trials, Afric Xpress
officials say “txtNpay” is now ready to take off, beginning
in full throttle by the end of April, starting with services
in and around the Accra Metropolis and gradually extending
to Kumasi and the eight remaining regional capitals in the
In a matter of weeks therefore, according to Afric Xpress,
Ghanaians will, for the first time, use their personal
mobile phones, to do their shopping, fill their cars with
fuel, pay their utility bills, send or receive money from
relatives and friends, pay their own or their wards’ school
fees, top up their phone credits and undertake a lot more
personal transactions in good time… without having to touch,
offer or use hard cash.
Could this be the beginning of the much anticipated new
micro-economic order in which the definition of one’s
purchasing power will have little or nothing to do with the
stacks of hard paper money he carries around or shows at the
Many Ghanaians are waiting to buy into the dream of Afric
Xpress of facilitating speedy, secured, cashless and
convenient business transactions at different levels of the