Cash To Cashless: Visa, MasterCard Scramble For Africa

Cash To Cashless: Visa, MasterCard Scramble For Africa

With low consumer confidence in the U.S., Visa and MasterCard are scrambling to boost revenues in emerging countries; Africa is an obvious target as its population moves from cash to cashless transactions.

In October, the two competing global credit and debit card companies announced their quarterly results.

Visa, the global leader, posted a 28-percent drop in profits from August to September, earning $1.19 billion, down from $1.66 billion for the same period in 2012.

MasterCard, on the other hand, saw its net income increase 14 percent during the same period, posting $879 million, up from $772 million a year earlier.

While each attributed their differing performances to a variety of factors, one on which they both agreed was that consumer confidence in the U.S. remained low with slow recovery from the economic crisis.

“We do expect one day to benefit from stronger economic growth, we just don’t know when yet,” said Visa CEO, Charlie Scharf, during the release of the firm’s results, as reported by Reuters.

This reality has over the years slowly hit home and is now forcing the two companies to boost their revenues from emerging countries, with Africa being an automatic destination.

Unlike Americans, Africans in general are enjoying stronger shopping confidence. More significantly to Visa and MasterCard, an increasing number of Africans across the continent are signing up to own credit and debit cards.

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More than a third of all consumer payments were made using cash in 33 countries representing more than 85 percent of global gross domestic product, according to recent research by MasterCard. This amounted to $63 trillion, according to the study, entitled “The Global Journey from Cash to Cashless.”

Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria were the four African countries polled for the study. Egypt and Nigeria were ranked on the tail end of the list.

Three of the four African countries – excluding South Africa – were ranked as being in the inception stage in the global journey from cash to cashless.

Many of these countries are still building the infrastructure necessary to move away from cash, the report noted. They are “beginning their cashless journey.”

South Africa, on the other hand, is keeping company with the likes of Brazil, China and Spain in the transition stage of the journey. These are countries that “have created the requisite infrastructure to go cashless, and are shifting share of consumer payments, often quite rapidly,” according to the report.

“Kenya is one of the fastest-changing markets of those included in the ‘Cashless Journey Study,’ and much of this shift from cash to cashless has come as a result of innovation and uptake of new payment solutions,” the report said.

Kenya had 18,796 point-of-sale machines as of May, according to the Central Bank of Kenya. In a country of more than 40 million, approximately 10.8 million people – about a quarter of the population – use cards for their daily transactions, the bank said. However, many of the same people use the cards at ATM machines to withdraw cash which they use to pay for commodities. Most are still averse to just swiping their cards instead.

In South Africa, recent research shows that people with debit and credit cards are confident and even prefer making transactions online, putting them ahead of their Kenyan peers.

It is in this untapped market that Visa and MasterCard have expanded their footprints in Africa to cushion themselves from dwindling or stagnating sales in their traditional markets.

“Today, 85 percent of the world’s transactions are still carried out in cash and check,” said Daniel Monehin, MasterCard division president for Sub-Saharan Africa, in a mid-October press briefing attended by AFKInsider. At the briefing, MasterCard launched its new Nakumatt Global Prepaid MasterCard, a loyalty retail card that partners with Nakumatt Holdings, the region’s largest retail chain.

“In Kenya, this figure (transactions made with cash and checks) stands at over 98 percent, and we believe that the launch of this card will be a notable victory for the push for increased cashless transactions,” Monehin said.

The loyalty card was an upgrade of a previous one that Nakumatt – a $400 million business – launched that had more than a million subscribers.

It is this one million people – and potentially millions more, since the cards will be launched in the entire region – that MasterCard is targeting as it plays catch-up to Visa. Visa dominates the Kenyan market.

Customers will be able to simultaneously deposit Kenya shillings, U.S. dollars, euros, British pounds, Indian rupees, South African rand, and Australian dollars, saving the customer who travels foreign exchange losses, MasterCard said.

Customers who own the card can earn points for using their cards not only at Nakumatt supermarkets in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda but also where MasterCard is accepted in the region.

These customers will also earn points at MasterCard’s 2 million ATMs and more than 35.9 million outlets worldwide.

MasterCard’s latest foray in South Africa in August saw 10 million cards launched to beneficiaries of the South African social security program.

MasterCard also partnered with Blue Label Telecoms to enable more than 22,000 point-of-sale devices used by informal traders in rural areas. The machines are used to buy prepaid vouchers, mostly for mobile airtime.

In July the same firm introduced a card to students of a Kenya university that allows them to pay for goods and services.

While MasterCard was busy launching its new loyalty cards, Kamran Siddiqi – the newly appointed general manager for Visa in Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa – visited Kenya.

“We want to make sure our partner banks and the local government are aware of these services and we have an opportunity to update them on their progress,” Siddiqi said in a press statement. “We also want to learn how we can better serve Kenyans so Visa remains a catalyst for economic growth and prosperity.”

This year, Visa sealed a deal with Kenya’s Equity Bank, Africa’s largest bank by customer base, allowing mobile phone users to transfer money from their phones to others locally and in participating African user countries.

“Visa’s operations in Africa are firmly based on bringing about innovative products that promote safe and convenient transactions,” Visa said during the launch of the product in partnership with Equity Bank. AFKInsider attended the launch.