Africa´s largest financial inclusion programme creates suspicion

e-id1On August 28, 2014, the pilot programme of the MasterCard-branded National eID card was launched in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

In the pilot phase, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) will issue MasterCard-branded identity cards with electronic payments functionality to 13 million Nigerians. This initiative is the largest roll-out of a biometric-based verification card with an electronic payment solution in the country and the broadest financial inclusion programme in Africa. 

With the eID card, citizens will have the ability to deposit funds, receive social benefits, pay for goods and services at Merchant locations within and outside Nigeria as well as draw cash from ATMs around the world.

With 13 applications (of which the following 5 are active from the start):

  1. Match-on-Card-where a secure terminal matches a specific fingerprint against that locked away on the card;
  2. Payment function-which allows secure financial transactions;
  3. Machine Readable Travel Document (MRTD), for local/ regional travel;
  4. Nigerian Electronic Identity (‘eID’) application to be used to authenticate an individual’s identity and Electronic Public Key Infrastructure (‘ePKI’) application to be used for identification, authentication and digital signatures.

Let´s observe the roll out and see if the card can hold its promise: providing millions of Nigerians – the majority of whom have never had access to a banking product – with the security, convenience and reliability of electronic payments.

“Combining an identity card with MasterCard’s prepaid payment capability creates a game changer as it breaks down one of the most significant barriers to financial inclusion – proof of identity – while simultaneously enabling Nigerians to access the global economy.” Said Daniel Monehin, division president of sub-Saharan Africa, MasterCard.

However, especially SINCE many Nigerians have never used a bank account or payment instrument the client adoption aspect of launching the card will have to thought through thoroughly and according to the article there is very little mention of how clients will learn how to use the card and how to best draw most benefit of it.

The vanguard article “Nigeria E-ID card – the confusion, Questions, Answers” presents exactly these points. Most Nigerians are concerned about privacy: Can anybody now access one´s personal information via pushing a simple button? Can MasterCard infringe on privacy?

The article explains that MasterCard is mainly responsible for the payment functionality of the card. Nowhere, anybody complains that your name is on the ATM card, or that that information may be held in America. The concern here is biometric data and other demographic information such as next of Kin and so on. MasterCard does not have and will never have access to such information.

However, some Nigerians are just put off by the name of an American company on the card and some are even concerned that the government is taking Nigerians into a second slavery, wondering why it would sacrifice Nigeria’s sovereignty on the altar of commerce.

Another blog also raises similar concerns.

However, there is still the overarching customer adoption issue. Will people in rural areas take up the service? Where do you charge the card? If only in bank branches, this exciting product will leave out the rural populations. Can I only withdraw at ATMs and branches? Again a rural issue…

Unfortunately, I could not find any answers to these questions. Let´s observe the space and see if they stand out going forward.

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