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SLACB prexy laments difficulty in service delivery

-but hopeful a functional National Switch will address anomaly

January 25, 2016 By Ibrahim Tarawallie

President of the Sierra Leone Association of Commercial Banks (SLACB) has described branch banking – the dominant mode of banking transaction in the country currently – as cash based transaction that does not support general economic growth.

Ms Hasiatu G. Jalloh was speaking yesterday at the Bank Complex in Freetown, during a seminar hosted by the Bank of Sierra Leone in collaboration with SLACB on the implementation of a National Switch, an electronic payment system that will aid effective banking service delivery as well as improve efficiency of workflows at reduced costs for various banking institutions, parastatals, ministries, departments and agencies.

She noted that the challenges of branch banking was evident by long queues in commercial banks, especially at the end of each month when salaries are paid and during the festive season, adding that it was also manifest during payment of hazard allowance to Ebola response workers at the pick of the outbreak in 2014.

She, however, expressed hope that the implementation of a functional national switch would enable financial institutions deliver banking services in an environment that support innovation and product of skills.

She disclosed that there are currently thirteen (13) commercial banks with ninety-one (91) branches countrywide, although only six among the 13 have functional ATMs and 4 with functional POSs, in addition to three mobile money operators and over 100 agents across the country.

“The implementation of the switch, therefore, will undoubtedly address this anomaly. We are proud to say that the Bank of Sierra Leone has moved the process further. Implementation of functional national switch will strengthen delivery of the financial service, thus creating a single integrated and effective platform for the settlement of interbank electronic payment derived from different channels,” she stated.

According to Ms Jalloh, e-commerce activities could also be safer, faster and sophisticated through settlement of all financial transactions and eliminate the risks, improve productivity and enhancing access to banking and other products, thus promoting financial inclusion to the unbanked.

Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Ibrahim L. Stevens, said the National Switch Project was borne out of commitment made sometime last year by the Governor, Mr. Momodu Kargbo, at the business launch to have a fully operational national switch in Sierra Leone.

He said the process was officially launched in November 2015, adding that the seminar would help participants have an in-depth understanding and assessment as to how the system would work.

“With a fully operational switch, we believe in achieving a cashless society. The switch will help in producing a very good data for us and will allow for better data and handling of money circulation. It makes banking institutions speak the same language by communicating without much hustle,” he explained.

In a presentation, Erik Holst-Roness, Chief Executive Officer of Altarra Financial Services Advisory – the company contracted to advise BSL and SLACB on the implementation of a National switch – stated that a switch is a system that interconnects all banks and electronic channels.

He said the system would bring onboard interconnectivity VISA, MasterCard and other schemes for the processing of both local and international transactions and contains a full e-commerce platform and virtual payment gateway.

Explaining the opportunities of the system, Rebecca Ayoola, who is a payments system expert at Altarra, said an electronic payments platform for Sierra Leone would make doing business more reliable and efficient, provide comfort and convenience for investors, reduce fraud and boost financial inclusion, among others.

She highlighted traditional views and habits, network connectivity, support and logistics and cost to end-users as some of the challenges envisage.

Mr Kwame Luke, a Sierra Leonean, based in the United Kingdom, who is part of the Altarra Group, gave useful insight into the cost benefit analysis of the National Switch Project.

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