SBP Governor Dr. Reza Baqir's 3-Year Term Saw Expansion & Modernization of Financial Services in Pakistan

Pakistan's chief central banker Dr. Reza Baqir's 3-year term saw a broad expansion and modernization of the nation's financial services industry. The impact of Baqir's policies can be seen in multiple sectors including agriculture, housing, manufacturing, exports, financial digitization and record-high investments in technology startups. Supported by Dr. Baqir's accommodative monetary policy during the COVID19 pandemic, Pakistan poverty headcount, as measured at the lower-middle-income class line of US$3.20 PPP 2011 per day, declined from 37% in FY2020 to 34% in FY2021, according to the World Bank's Pakistan Development Update 2022 released this month. The report said Pakistan's real GDP shrank by 1% in FY20, followed by 5.6% growth in FY21.  Pakistan’s economy created 5.5 million jobs during the past three years –on an average 1.84 million jobs a year, which is far higher than yearly average of creation of new jobs during the 2008-18 decade, according to the Labor Force Survey (LFS) published by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). 


SBP Accomplishments on Dr. Reza Baqir's Watch 1. Source: SBP


State Bank of Pakistan's TERF (Temporary Economic Refinance Facility) helped drive double-digit growth in large scale manufacturing (LSM) and its RDA (Roshan Digital Accounts) simplified overseas Pakistanis' investment and boosted the nation's foreign exchange reserves. 

SBP Accomplishments on Dr. Reza Baqir's Watch 2. Source: SBP


Under Dr. Reza Baqir's leadership, the SBP supported the Rozgar Scheme, Loan Extension and Restructuring Package, and RFCC (Refinance Facility to Counter Covid) to deal with the economic impact of the COVID pandemic. To promote digital payments, the SBP waived all charges for customers using online fund transfer services. Further, to ease on-boarding of new customers to use online banking channels, the SBP waived the requirement of biometric verification to activate internet and mobile banking accounts. 

World Bank Pakistan Update 2022:

A World Bank report released in April 2022 credited the PTI government led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan for timely policy measures, particularly the Ehsaas program, for mitigating the adverse socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here's an excerpt of the report titled Pakistan Development Update 2022

"The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) lowered the policy rate and announced supportive measures for the financial sector to help businesses and the Government expanded the national cash transfer program (Ehsaas) on an emergency basis. These measures contributed to economic growth rebounding to 5.6 percent in FY21.  However, long-standing structural weaknesses of the economy, particularly consumption-led growth, low private investment rates, and weak exports have constrained productivity growth and pose risks to a sustained recovery. Aggregate demand pressures have built up, in part due to previously accommodative fiscal and monetary policies, contributing to double-digit inflation and a sharp rise in the import bill with record-high trade deficits in H1 FY22 (Jul–Dec 2021). These have diminished the real purchasing power of households and weighed on the exchange rate and the country’s limited external buffers." 

Digital Banking:

Digital transactions in Pakistan soared 31.1% to Rs. 88 trillion or $500 Billion in fiscal year 2020-21, according to the nation's top central banker. “If the figure is $500 billion now, you can imagine the pace at which we are digitizing,” said Dr. Baqir Raza, Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, adding that those transactions showed a year-on-year growth of 30.6% in volume and 31.1% in value. The nation's central bank also reported that the large-value payments segment, known as Real-time Inter-Bank Settlement Mechanism (PRISM),  saw growth of 60% by volume and 12.8% by value to Rs. 444.6 trillion or $2.5 trillion in FY 2020-21. There are several factors driving rapid shift to digital technology, including expanding digital infrastructure, new technologies and the government's efforts to document Pakistan's huge undocumented economy. Grey-listing of Pakistan by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has also played a role. 


Internet & Mobile Banking in Pakistan. Source: SBP

Digital Transactions Growth: 

Growth in digital transactions was led by major uptake in mobile banking (29% increase in the number of users and 133.6% and 178.7% hike in volume and value, respectively) and internet banking (32% increase in the number of users and 65.1% and 91.7% up in volume and value, respectively), according to the State Bank of Pakistan. “If the figure is $500 billion now, you can imagine the pace at which we are digitizing,” said Dr. Baqir Raza, the head of Pakistan's central bank.“Therefore, there is a huge potential for enhancing financial inclusion,” he added. 

E-Banking in Pakistan. Source: Dawn

Pakistan's central bankers have taken the plunge into the world of digital payments with their own offering: Raast. It aims to create an instant low-cost payment system that can seamlessly and securely connect government entities, a variety of banks, including microfinance banks (MFBs),  electronic money institutions (EMIs) and State Bank authorized payment service providers (PSPs) like 1Link and NIFT which may choose to take advantage of it.  Currency and coins in circulation account for about 43% of Pakistan's total money supply. The introduction of Raast is part of the government's effort to modernize and document the nation's cash-based informal economy. Undocumented economy poses a serious threat to the country because it creates opportunities for criminal activities and tax evasion. Digital financial services will also promote e-commerce in Pakistan. 

Raast Digital Payment System. Source: State Bank of Pakistan



Raast Digital Payments:

Raast is a system of digital payment infrastructure. It is essentially a pipe that is intended to connect government and financial institutions with consumers and merchants with each other to process payments instantly at very low cost.  

Raast will be boosted by Pakistan government's decision to use it to pay salaries, pensions and pay welfare recipients under Benazir Income Support and Ehsaas Emergency Cash programs. 


It has been developed in-house by the State Bank of Pakistan  in collaboration with Karandaaz, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and supported by the World Bank, the British government and the United Nations.

Private Payment Apps:

Several private payment apps, including EasyPaisa and JazzCash, are already operating in Pakistan. These apps lack interoperability with each other. Each operates in its own silo. Neither of these offer links to financial institutions and government entities. 

There are also several EMIs (Electronic Money institutions) in Pakistan. These include NayaPay, SadaPay and Finja.  EMIs are not banks, but can store deposits. These are not tied to any banks or telcos. They could all use back-end plumbing offered by Raast. 

Payment Service Providers (PSPs) :

1Link and NIFT payment and switch networks, supported by different groups of Pakistani financial institutions, currently process the bulk of credit/debit card and ATM transactions as well as e-payments in Pakistan. State Bank's Raast promises to be cheaper and faster than these networks. Raast also offers processing of e-payments by government entities. 

Raast Future Roadmap:

State Bank of Pakistan  intends to demonstrate Raast's usefulness by first processing government payments to individuals, including government employees and Ehsaas welfare beneficiaries, before expanding it for business applications.  SBP’s plan is to start person-to-person (P2P) payments using just the phone numbers in Q3/2021 and then bring merchants on board with QR codes by Q1/2022. 


Summary:

 Dr. Reza Baqir's 3 years as Pakistan's top central banker saw a broad expansion and modernization of the nation's financial services industry. The impact of Dr. Baqir's policies can been seen in multiple sectors including agriculture, housing, digitization and record-high investments in technology startups. Digital transactions in Pakistan soared 31% to $500 billion in FY 2020-21. Among the factors driving rapid shift to digital technology are: expanding digital infrastructure, new technologies and the government's efforts to document Pakistan's huge undocumented economy. Grey-listing of Pakistan by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has also played a role.  The State Bank of Pakistan's launch of Raast digital payment infrastructure represents a great leap forward for the use of financial technology (FinTech) and financial inclusion in the  country.  It will also promote e-commerce in Pakistan. Undocumented economy poses a serious threat to the country because it creates opportunities for criminal activities and tax evasion.  Raast is part of the government's effort to modernize payment systems and document the nation's cash-based informal economy. 

Speaking with CNN"s Julia Chatterly, the State Bank of Pakistan Governor Reza Baqar said last year that the Pakistani government is currently studying the idea of issuing central bank digital currency (CBDC). China is showing Pakistan the way with its CBDC. There will be an announcement on the country's CBDC in the next several months. Because CBDC is issued by the central bank, it can help the country fight crime and corruption. Pakistan is also promoting digital payments to enhance financial inclusion and document the economy. Eliminating digital payment fees during the covid pandemic has resulted in 100%-200% jump in such transactions. He said fintech companies and digital payment processors like Stripe are welcome to operate in Pakistan. It has the world's 5th largest population with young demographics offering tremendous growth opportunity.


Here's a brief video of Dr. Reza Baqir's CNN interview with Julia Chatterly:

https://youtu.be/BZ8MAi-_Qb4


Comments

Riaz Haq said…
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) decision of allowing commercial banks to extend cheaper loans for conversion of tube-well operations to solar power for availing the net metering facility, the power distribution companies have started receiving an overwhelming response from such consumers across the country.



https://www.dawn.com/news/1679520



Under the provisions, the tube-well connections seeking net metering on a load up to 25kW will not require permission from the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) for the grant of generation licence, Dawn has learnt.

The facility will not only convert most such connections on solar but also enable consumers to produce and use the electricity on their own besides selling the additional/surplus to the respective Discos. It will also control the technical and commercial losses (power losses either due to theft or technical reasons).

“The tube-well connections can be converted to net-metering but the response was not good due to considerable investment (around Rs2 to 3 million on each connection), lack of loaning facility and awareness. Now the SBP has announced a loaning facility on a six per cent markup for launching such small schemes,” explained Lahore Electric Supply Company’s Market Implementation and Regulatory Affairs Director-General Altaf Qadir while talking to Dawn.

Moreover, the increasing power tariff due to fuel price adjustment and other issues have forced consumers having tube-well connections to contact us in this regard,” he added.

The net metering project had been launched in 2016 countrywide. It allows any domestic, commercial, industrial and other consumers having at least a three-phase meter connection to be part of the power generation system by installing it on his/her premises (house, shop, factory, open spaces, etc). Under the arrangements, such a consumer may sell the additional energy to the respective power distribution company and make stocktaking (calculations) with it at the end of the month.

Since the system allows the consumers to generate electricity from one kilowatt to one megawatt, Nepra issues licences to the applicants residing in the service area jurisdiction of all distribution companies. Before issuance of the licence, the respective companies are supposed to receive, scrutinise and process such applications.

According to Mr Qadir, there are hundreds of thousands of tube-well connections in the service areas of all nine Discos including Lesco, Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (Fesco), Multan Electric Power Company (Mepco), Gujaranwala Electric Power Company (Gepco), Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO), Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco), Tribal Area Electric Supply Company (Tesco), Quetta Electric Supply Company (Qesco), Sukkar Electric Power Company (Sepco) and Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (Hesco).

It may be mentioned that most of such connections exist in a vast rural area of Mepco. The number here ranges between 60,000 to 70,000. Similarly, Lesco has 25,000 to 30,000 connections and most exist in the areas of its Kasur and Okara circles. Qesco, Gepco, Pesco, Hesco, Sepco and other companies also have a large number of such connections.

Answering a question Mr Qadir said Lesco has so far processed as many 6,000 net metering related applications out of which most (equaling to 100MW or so) have been issued generation licence by Nepra.

Riaz Haq said…
The Indian economy is being rewired. The opportunity is immense
And so are the stakes

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/05/13/the-indian-economy-is-being-rewired-the-opportunity-is-immense

As the country emerges from the pandemic, however, a new pattern of growth is visible. It is unlike anything you have seen before. An indigenous tech effort is key. As the cost of technology has dropped, India has rolled out a national “tech stack”: a set of state-sponsored digital services that link ordinary Indians with an electronic identity, payments and tax systems, and bank accounts. The rapid adoption of these platforms is forcing a vast, inefficient, informal cash economy into the 21st century. It has turbocharged the world’s third-largest startup scene after America’s and China’s.

Alongside that, global trends are creating bigger business clusters. The it-services industry has doubled in size in a decade, helped by the cloud and a worldwide shortage of software workers. Where else can Western firms find half a million new engineers a year? There is a renewable-energy investment spree: India ranks third for solar installations and is pioneering green hydrogen. As firms everywhere reconfigure supply chains to lessen their reliance on China, India’s attractions as a manufacturing location have risen, helped by a $26bn subsidy scheme. Western governments are keen to forge defence and technology links. India has also found a workaround to redistribute more to ordinary folk who vote but rarely see immediate gains from economic reforms: a direct, real-time, digital welfare system that in 36 months has paid $200bn to about 950m people.
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan to launch digital ID wallet this year
By Daniel Tost - March 8, 2022, 6:19 pm

https://www.globalgovernmentfintech.com/pakistan-to-launch-digital-id-wallet-this-year/


Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) is planning to roll out a digital identity wallet later this year in a move that will end the need for physical ID.

NADRA is tasked with digitising all citizen data in the country, which – with more than 220 million citizens – is the fifth biggest in the world in terms of population.

As part of a digital push aimed at generating benefits including greater financial inclusion, the authority is working on a significant evolution of the existing ‘Pak-ID’ smartphone app – which was itself only introduced seven months ago, the authority’s chairman Tariq Malik told Pakistani media Dawn.

Launched last September, Pak-ID allows citizens to apply for a physical ID card remotely by using their Android or iOS device to scan documents and biometric data including their fingerprints and take a picture to verify their identity. When it was introduced, NADRA proclaimed that Pakistan had become ‘the first country in the world to introduce ID technology’. Two weeks later, the authority launched a similar biometric verification service for the banking and payments industry. With five banks initially participating, the service enables customers to open bank accounts and undertake biometric authenticated financial transactions using a mobile-phone camera.

Hailing Pak-ID’s debut, prime minister Imran Khan called the app “a revolutionary step in providing convenience, especially to overseas Pakistanis”. It seems these expats have at least partly driven the decision to launch the digital identity wallet by updating the Pak-ID app. “In a short span, 75,000 overseas Pakistanis have processed their national identity cards from the comfort of their homes by using the app,” Malik told Dawn. “With successful testing on 75,000 overseas Pakistanis, NADRA will go for a digital wallet.”

The wallet would be “a leap forward putting an end to the conventional physical ID” and is to be made available “later this year”, Malik said. “The digital dividends of such technology innovation will yield positive results in contactless banking, financial inclusion, ease of doing business and e-governance initiatives by offering remote identification and e-KYC [know-your-customer procedures].”
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan to launch digital ID wallet this year
By Daniel Tost - March 8, 2022, 6:19 pm

https://www.globalgovernmentfintech.com/pakistan-to-launch-digital-id-wallet-this-year/

Focus on unregistered citizens
As of January, 96 per cent of Pakistan’s adult (above 18) population, have a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC), according to Islamabad-headquartered NADRA. Pakistan started rolling out its Smart National Identity Card (SNIC) in 2012 in a programme overseen by NADRA and aimed at replacing CNICs. Currently, both types of cards remain valid.

Recently, NADRA has focused on unregistered individuals (citizens without an identity card) by creating an ‘Inclusive Registration Department’. Its aim is to enhance registration, especially for women, minorities, transgender and unregistered persons. The agency targeted 80 districts with a gender gap of more than 10 per cent in registration figures. Eighteen female-only NADRA centres were opened to overcome socio-cultural barriers of women cautious about dealing with male staff. Additionally, 262 mobile registration vans and 80 ‘ManPack’ mobile units have been deployed countrywide for people living in remote areas or senior citizens who may struggle to travel. In total there are more than 700 registration centres operating countrywide and in all 154 districts of Pakistan. According to a NADRA press notice issued last month, the gender gap has been reduced by 40 per cent in targeted districts.

NADRA says it holds the largest biometric database of citizens in the world. The security of such a stock of citizen data is clearly important but the authority states that its SNIC is equipped with 36 security features, using a layering system to safeguard sensitive information.

Principles for interoperable ID
Pakistan’s move comes against the international backdrop of high-level principles to support the development of mutually recognised and interoperable digital ID systems and infrastructure having been drafted by a working group on digital identity comprising representatives from eight countries.

The 11 principles call for digital ID infrastructure to be open; transparent; reusable; user-centric; inclusive and accessible; multilingual; secure and private; technologically neutral and compatible with data portability; administratively simple; able to preserve information; and effective and efficient.

In its report, the Digital Identity Working Group (DIWG) said its goal is to enhance trade agreements and to ‘facilitate economic recovery from Covid-19, for example to support the opening of domestic and international borders’.

Established in 2020, DIWG comprises Australia, Canada, Finland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands and the UK. It is chaired by Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency.
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan to launch digital ID wallet this year
By Daniel Tost - March 8, 2022, 6:19 pm

https://www.globalgovernmentfintech.com/pakistan-to-launch-digital-id-wallet-this-year/

Focus on unregistered citizens
As of January, 96 per cent of Pakistan’s adult (above 18) population, have a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC), according to Islamabad-headquartered NADRA. Pakistan started rolling out its Smart National Identity Card (SNIC) in 2012 in a programme overseen by NADRA and aimed at replacing CNICs. Currently, both types of cards remain valid.

Recently, NADRA has focused on unregistered individuals (citizens without an identity card) by creating an ‘Inclusive Registration Department’. Its aim is to enhance registration, especially for women, minorities, transgender and unregistered persons. The agency targeted 80 districts with a gender gap of more than 10 per cent in registration figures. Eighteen female-only NADRA centres were opened to overcome socio-cultural barriers of women cautious about dealing with male staff. Additionally, 262 mobile registration vans and 80 ‘ManPack’ mobile units have been deployed countrywide for people living in remote areas or senior citizens who may struggle to travel. In total there are more than 700 registration centres operating countrywide and in all 154 districts of Pakistan. According to a NADRA press notice issued last month, the gender gap has been reduced by 40 per cent in targeted districts.

NADRA says it holds the largest biometric database of citizens in the world. The security of such a stock of citizen data is clearly important but the authority states that its SNIC is equipped with 36 security features, using a layering system to safeguard sensitive information.

Principles for interoperable ID
Pakistan’s move comes against the international backdrop of high-level principles to support the development of mutually recognised and interoperable digital ID systems and infrastructure having been drafted by a working group on digital identity comprising representatives from eight countries.

The 11 principles call for digital ID infrastructure to be open; transparent; reusable; user-centric; inclusive and accessible; multilingual; secure and private; technologically neutral and compatible with data portability; administratively simple; able to preserve information; and effective and efficient.

In its report, the Digital Identity Working Group (DIWG) said its goal is to enhance trade agreements and to ‘facilitate economic recovery from Covid-19, for example to support the opening of domestic and international borders’.

Established in 2020, DIWG comprises Australia, Canada, Finland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands and the UK. It is chaired by Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency.
Riaz Haq said…
SBP
@StateBank_Pak
Another milestone achieved by #SBP in the journey of digitization, as number of #Raast IDs registration crosses 10 million mark since its launch in Feb22. Aggregated value of Person to Person (P2P) Transactions using #Raast system by customers crosses Rs36bn.

https://twitter.com/StateBank_Pak/status/1526174517910986755?s=20&t=aqY9b05RSGuFWfapw2ib7w
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan’s new gov't faces a politically fraught decision on whether to remove a costly #fuel subsidy that helps #inflation-buffeted households but also has led the #IMF to suspend loans. The subsidy costs the government $600 million a month. https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistan-faces-painful-choice-as-inflation-batters-economy-11652883774 via @WSJ

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who leads a coalition that took power in April, must decide whether to take the politically risky step of removing a fuel subsidy that was put in place by the previous government after the Ukraine war erupted in February. The subsidy costs the government $600 million a month.

The International Monetary Fund, which suspended the country’s lending program over the fuel subsidy, began talks Wednesday with Mr. Sharif’s government on restarting the loans.

Across the developing world, debt and fiscal budgets were already stretched by the Covid-19 pandemic before the Ukraine war led to a steep rise in energy and food import costs. An analysis by J.P. Morgan found that Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable developing countries to rising commodity prices, along with Egypt and Sri Lanka, where an economic crisis has led to power outages and shortages of basic goods.

So far, the government has kept the fuel subsidy, saying they can’t impose more hardship on the population. The price of flour jumped 42% in one week, according to government data released May 12. Inflation is the issue voters care most about, according to surveys. A poll by Gallup Pakistan in April found that of those who approved of the removal that month of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, 71% cited his government’s record on inflation as the reason.

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To shore up foreign-exchange reserves, the government is banking on Saudi Arabia and China providing billions of dollars in more loans, Pakistani officials say, in addition to the IMF.

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Saad Siddiqui, managing director for emerging-markets strategy at J.P. Morgan, said that while governments might think they are shielding their populations against price shocks with subsidies, delaying a return to prudent economic policies could result in greater economic hardship, as a delayed adjustment could potentially be even sharper.

“You have to ask yourself the question: how is the adjustment going to be made?” Mr. Siddiqui said. “Is it going to be made in a controlled way, by increasing fuel prices, which will reduce demand and therefore your import bill and revive the IMF program. Or will it be imposed by a weaker currency, which is going to impact the prices of everything and will be potentially much more disorderly.”

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