All things being equal, come January 1, 2012, the cashless economy policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria will kick off.
It will, however, be practically operational in banks and businesses from the third day of January, being the first working day after the holiday.
By then, the question of whether the economic initiative would ever take off would have been answered; though there remains a myriad of other questions begging for answers.
The implementation of the policy has generated sundry reactions from individuals and organisations, especially because of the anticipated e-payment challenges.
A cashless economy is one where purchases and transactions are done mainly by electronic means and seldom by cash. The policy, introduced by the CBN in April 2011, states that individual and corporate customers are restricted to a daily cash withdrawal and lodgement of N150,000 and N1m respectively.
By implication, individuals, who make cash withdrawals above the limit will be charged N100 on every N1,000, while a corporate organisation that exceeds the limit will be charged N200 on every N1,000.
Apparently relying on its commercial stamina as Nigeria’s business hub, the CBN will commence the pilot scheme in Lagos State.
But as sophisticated as the residents of the metropolis are perceived to be, the level of awareness about this policy, checks have shown, is still very low.
Subsequently in June, the policy will commence in other major cities in Nigeria such as Aba, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano. According to the CBN and the Bankers Committee, the economy will be the better off with the policy.
For instance, it will reduce the dominance of cash in the system, thereby reducing cases of armed robbery and cash-related crimes.
It will moderate the cost of cash management; encourage the use of electronic payment channels and reduce lending rates to further make credit accessible to big and small businesses.
The committee’s findings showed that running a cashless economy could save the CBN about N192bn, which is the projected direct cost of managing cash for 2012.
While Nigerians could not deny the need to prevent too much cash in circulation among other benefits of the scheme; many still believe that the cash limit is too low and query how the CBN arrived at the benchmark.
Some also express the need for a gradual transition to the new policy order; while others think that Nigeria is not even ripe for it. As laudable as the cashless idea is, an assessment of the usual inconsistencies in the operation of the Automated Teller Machine leaves many stakeholders wondering if the same system could produce a better result.
Realising this potential threat, the CBN recently directed banks and independent service providers to deploy more ATMs and ensure their efficiency to ensure a smooth implementation of the policy.
It stressed that all ATMs (off-site and on-site) shall have a minimum uptime of 95 per cent going forward. The directive prescribed sanctions for failure to comply.
Resolute about seeing the scheme succeed, the CBN had projected the deployment of 40,000 point of sale devices in Lagos and plans to increase the number to 150,000 by the end of next year.
The bank said that it had the assurances of all the bank chief executives on the take-off of the policy, adding that the migration to electronic channel was part of the engine of change in the economy.