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LAGOS, NIGERIA.     Tuesday, April 08 2003

 

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SmartPay explains realistic ATM approach

IN A bid to clear the air on the controversy surrounding the lingering issue of an ideal automated teller machine (ATM) technology that is suitable for a growing economy like Nigeria, leading alternative payment solution's provider SmartPay Nigeria Limited, has concluded plans to embark on a nationwide awareness campaign aimed at educating Nigerians on the benefits of an ideal ATM system.

Making this pronouncement recently was the Managing Director of the company, Mr. Alex Nwuba in his Lagos office.

According to him, "many things that are known in this market have changed over the times. Banks deployed technology for strategic advantages that is why you witnessed that a bank will roll out ATMs only for its customers and cards only for its customers. But now they are beginning to see the benefit of leveraging technology in such a way that it is complementary." Many stakeholders see this process of leveraging on technology, which was pioneered by SmartPay as far back as 1999 with the installation of a switching system, as the future of banking. This, he said, is as a result of the nature of modern day banking, which is actually geared towards the low-value high-volume fee market rather than the traditional earnings in COT. It is this marked shift that has made it inescapable for modern day banks to adopt robust and interoperable ATM technology when targeting this very lucrative genre of banking.

"So banks are looking at diversifying in the areas where fees can be accrued, said Mr. Nwuba, "and if you then roll out ATMs that could be used by everybody, that's a change." In this context, the true value of SmartPay powered ATMs was also revealed to include such features as interoperability, multi-bank and multi-functional functionalities. The interoperability feature was explained by the SmartPay boss as a key feature that allows the SmartPay ATM to be fully integrated into the bank office system of any of the existing 42-member banks in the consortium. Further explaining the concept of his feature was the company's Vice President in charge of Strategy and Business Development, Prince Obidike Nwakaodo. He revealed that the interoperability feature of the ATMs has been tested and successfully launched by Standard Trust Bank, which has Finacle (from Infosys) as its core back-office system. He also stated that the system is also currently working on the Globus (Temenos) back office system being operated by Gulf Bank, which is another member of the consortium.

According to Nwakaodo, "the idea behind this unique feature, which is the only one existing in the country at the moment, is to show that our ATMs have an open system that will not require banks to change, upgrade or add any software just to use it." In addition to this feature, a more proposition driven aspect of the SmartPay ATMs is the multi-bank and multi function capabilities of the technology. In his explanation of this feature, the managing director of the company again explained that, "if a bank gave you a card and they only have branches in Lagos and you found yourself in Abeokuta (which is very close to Lagos), and there is no branch of that your bank there, then you can't load your card. With SmartPay card, all you have to look for is another bank that belongs to the SmartPay consortium and you can load and also use your card." This process can even be effected if the said bank does not posses a cash machine (ATM) as the national switch deployed by SmartPay resolves all transactions remotely. The implication of this is that a single SmartPay card can be used for transaction in all the banks that make up the consortium, making it the only one that can do so.

On the issue of the multi-functionality of the card, Mr. Nwuba restated that only SmartPay has the technology to support credit, debit and e-purse all in one card in the Nigerian market at the moment. He explained that the concept came after a careful research by the company, which revealed that the factors that brought about the existence of the e-purse in the first place, was one that was actually a passing phase and not meant to last. To that effect, SmartPay decided to embark on a robust project, and in the words of Mr. Nwuba: "We do so having understood what the needs are on a global basis and transforming that to the local requirements that exist in Nigeria. And so we bring the appropriate technology that addresses the needs of individuals; not experiments."

Reacting to the issue of public knowledge of transaction proceeds, he observed that, "because we provide back-end services as the operators, which is the enabling technology that allows individual banks to go out and issue cards, when such a bank issues cards to customers and they generate transactions, they don't typically go out to the public to announce it. So for us, as their back-end operators, it will be wrong to be doing such." He however believes that the only valuable information the card users are interested in is not the provider's transaction proceeds, but the unique nature of the SmartPay card.

He is also confident that the recent moves being made by such banks as STB, Gulf Bank, Intercontinental Bank and others in the area of massive ATM roll-out in the country, which has so far made the SmartPay ATMs the largest in Nigeria with close to 100, will go along way to encouraging more patronage to the banks in particular and e-payments in general. The company also disclosed that the current year would mark the entrance of more than 400 additional SmartPay ATMs into the country's public places. SmarPay cardholders are currently chasing the half a million mark with the company's target at one million before the last quarter of the year.

 

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