Nigeria’s central bank has today made good on its intentions to launch a national domestic card scheme, AfriGo. The scheme, which was initially announced at a Bankers’ Committee press briefing in October 2022, introduces the central bank into the triopoly of card payment schemes in Nigeria’s card payments market.
According to the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, this move will drive financial inclusion and concentrate card financial data in Nigeria, even as it serves as a symbol of national pride for its adopters.
“The national domestic card avails us the sovereignty of our data. Secondly, it comes at lower costs, ” he said.
With the annual value of card transactions in the Nigeria cards and payments market capped at $18.2 billion in 2021, Nigeria remains a huge market for players in the card payments market, which is largely dominated by global players like Mastercard and Visa, with Verve by Interswitch following behind.
These global companies provide central payment networks which they link to debit and credit cards to enable and facilitate cash transactions with the card. The cards can then be issued to customers by banks, financial institutions, or even shopping malls.
By breaking the triopoly and establishing a national card payment scheme, the CBN, in partnership with the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS), is positioning itself to disrupt and possibly dominate a fast-growing market. The CBN cites reduced operating costs and optimised foreign exchange usage as the hallmarks of its latest fintech foray.
“At this time when foreign exchange challenges persist globally, it is important for me to say that we have come up with this card to ensure that all online card transactions will now, effective immediately, begin to go on the nigerian national domestic system,” Emefiele said.
“NIBSS and CBN will work together to make sure foreign exchange is charged for only international transactions made on Visa and Mastercards as we have it now. This is so because many of the cards we use currently charge in foreign currency. However, with the launch of the national domestic card, all domestic transactions are to be carried out on the national domestic card scheme,” he added, speaking further on the payment of forex.
Notably, this “homegrown” scheme is the first of its kind in Africa, but it’s a route common to some top economies like China, India, Brazil, and Turkey. In India, Rupay, the government-backed card payment scheme, dominates the card market, owing to its efficiency, relatively low cost, and policy backing. To date, more than 600 million Rupay cards have been issued.
Mr. Premier Oiwoh, the managing director/CEO of the NIBSS, noted that the scheme was developed to address the specific pain points of Nigeria’s payment industry and provide customised innovative offerings.
If this scheme records the successes of Rupay, then Nigerians will be able to pay lesser amounts for debit cards and the likes. But the question of reliability and interoperability can only be truly answered when the cards enter circulation.
Speaking on how this move could stifle competition from global players, Emefiele said, “The Nigerian market is vast and the current participants have done so much in the last 12 years to transform the ecosystem. Yet there is much ground to cover as millions of Nigerians are still without cards to consummate transactions.”
“I am convinced that the national domestic card scheme will make this a reality in the coming months. We can no longer neglect the vast majority of Nigerians,” he added.
AfriGOpay Financial Services Limited (AFSL), a NIBSS-affiliated organisation, is responsible for deploying and overseeing the adoption of the national domestic card scheme.