ECOBANK NIGERIA LAUNCHES MASTERCARD AND CARDS TECHNOLOGY BECOMES THIRD PARTY PROCESSOR

Computing

With the launching of MasterCard Credit card issued by Ecobank Nigeria, a window of business opportunity opens to 900,000 ATM locations, 32.8 million merchants' acceptance locations in over 120 countries and over 30,000 financials institutions across six continents.

The journey started in Decatur Georgia, United States of America in December 1999. As a MasterCard/Visa Merchant for 4 years running a computer school, "the question kept popping up as to why the concept of moving from a Cash to a card society could not be replicated in Nigeria?" A call was made to MasterCard in Purchase, New York and we were directed to the Vice President in charge of Middle East and Africa at that time, Joy Ann Comiskey. Through Joy Ann we learnt that only financial institutions are members of MasterCard and only members can issue or acquire the cards. She armed us with a set of application forms for banks to become members with the authority to make photocopies. With this application and a lot of conviction, we came to Lagos and registered Cards Technology Limited. A number of banks were informed of our purpose and eventually many agreed to fill out the application. The applications were sent to South Africa for processing but did not receive attention until year 2002 when Eddie Grobler and Anthony West, the Senior Vice President Africa and Vice President Member relations for MasterCard in South Africa respectively, decided to take a more serious look at what we were doing in Nigeria. The appointment of Nivan Bijou by MasterCard, to look after this market early last year saw a dramatic shift in strategy to make Nigerian banks issue MasterCard.

During this period, Cards Technology Limited applied to become a Third Party Processor and Member Service Provider with MasterCard International and this was granted in August 2001. In January 2003, MasterCard came to Nigeria and met with some banks. It was while preparing for this visit that we contacted Mrs. Funke Osibodu who had just resumed as the Managing Director of Ecobank Plc. She thereafter started the application process and it took a little under one year for Ecobank's license to be issued.

The Central Bank of Nigeria issued the First Switching license in Nigeria to Cards Technology Limited in April 2004 to further facilitate MasterCard and other international players. The ordinary domiciliary account was then approved for prospective MasterCard holders to fund their transactions.

During the past one year, the project team for the implementation headed by the Chief Executive of Ecobank, has gone through a first time experience in the issuance of an International Card in Nigeria. This effort was crowned after successful testing of the various cards issued in Nigeria by Ecobank Plc., in several countries. The relief of all members of the project team after the successful pilot run in three continents, is better imagined. The satisfaction that follows a project of 4 years coming to fruition has swelled our ego and trust in the ability of Nigerians to be the best there is anywhere.

There have been several questions from the Nigerian populace as to where they could obtain MasterCard with most people believing that Cards Technology would issue cards to them. Cards Technology does not issue the cards, it only ensures that once your cards are issued, they work anywhere MasterCard is accepted throughout the world. This locations could be terminals such as POS, ATM, the Internet or through Voice terminals. In Nigeria today, Ecobank is licensed and is issuing cards to Nigerians to reduce the burden of carrying cash, traveler's cheques and ease many other social problems Nigerians face when they travel outside the country. The mode of checking into hotels worldwide has now made credit cards almost a must for all guests. The following banks are at different stages of bringing similar comfort to their customers: First bank of Nigeria Plc., Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Standard Trust Bank Plc., Intercontinental Bank Plc. and United Bank for Africa Plc. The list will continue to expand in the months ahead.

For the first time in the over 40 years existence of MasterCard International, the Nigeria market has become a focus and this speaks volumes of the new level of confidence the international community now has in our economy.

This has opened up a new vista of hope and opportunity to Nigerians to truly participate in electronic commerce. Nigerians, by this singular opportunity, can from the comfort of their homes order for goods from Europe, America, Asia etc, get the goods shipped via UPS, FedEx, DHL and many others, without necessarily incurring the cost of a travel ticket and have the goods delivered in less than 10 days. Goods could range from household goods to aircrafts. The possibilities are simply incredible.

In times past, many Nigerians got killed on their return home from business or pleasure trips through the sheer notion that they were carrying foreign money. With this opportunity, there is no need for any one to carry loads of cash either to or from any country since such funds can always be kept on their MasterCard. If one gets robbed of a MasterCard, there can only be limited damage assuming that the PIN number gets compromised. The fact that this would eliminate cash induced robbery in our society is a welcome development.

The new way of doing business in Nigeria that conforms to international standard is to invite companies to bid for government contracts. This is the same process in other civilized nations. At the minimum, Nigerian businessmen can now participate in bid opportunities though the World Bank, the United Nations, EU and many other International organizations requiring payment online or though any international currency. With MasterCard this becomes possible for all Nigerians with bank accounts and not just for the few privileged Nigerians who already have foreign accounts and therefore a MasterCard issued against such accounts.

The converse holds true for our Government departments and Ministries. Contracts open to International contractors can now attract wider audience through this opportunity with the government accepting payment through cards issued in other countries. Cards Technology Limited is positioned to process cards issued in Nigeria and cards issued from any part of the globe. The era of e-government can now have proper meaning. We can begin to imagine that the new lands registry at the FCT when completed can be accessed by Nigerians in Diaspora, download applications, fill it out, make payment using MasterCard and such payments would be deposited at the FCT account in Nigeria. Depending on how long such application takes to fill out, the whole transaction can be completed in 30 minutes. The actual payment takes less than 10 seconds to process through Cards Technology's switch. This is the Nigeria of tomorrow evolving in our time.

There used to be purchasing managers in organizations including the Government. Gradually this portfolio got obliterated as the role quickly shifted to the chief executives. Now that a new order is coming to Nigeria, it will be possible for Government or Business to Business transactions to be conducted over the internet. Some of us are now familiar with Price online, eBay auction site and many more. The purchasing manager can easily compare prices over the Internet and make payment through a purchase card with limit provided for such small items that are recurring expenditure.

This will complement what the due process is doing. It is not likely that Nigerians will be able to quickly set up phony websites belonging to the purchasing manager where all procurements for his ministry would be made.

Through Hotels.com, orbitz.com, expedia.com, travelow.com and several e-commerce sites, Nigerians can now get the cheapest fare to travel to any part of the world. Hotel reservations can be made at the comfort of your rooms and paid for with your MasterCard card.

Most Nigerians do not pay much attention to their health. Guess what? Hospitals accept MasterCard. How about paying your children school fees abroad, the universities accept MasterCard.

There is this popular slogan about MasterCard that "there are somethings money can't buy, for everything else, there's Mastercard". With MasterCard, a new world has opened for Nigerians. Please let us enjoy it and not abuse it.

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