• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Hello NQR, goodbye NQR

Hello NQR, goodbye NQR

“Why am I doing this to myself,” I mused as I almost literally rolled out of bed. The birds were still chirping outside and it was still dark around 6:08am – dark on this Saturday morning. I noticed the smell of rain in the air as I groggily dressed and grabbed my boots.

I am going to be all grit getting through today’s session with the boys; the week has been long already without early morning football to add to it. The session was predictably tough; eyes and brain cobwebs cleared from the first crunching tackle. These street kids don’t play. Done and dusted, we strolled over to the akara lady under the tree by the side of the field. Rituals. I signalled two portions, which were promptly scooped up, wrapped in old newspaper and deposited in the black plastic bag. She nodded to the QR code dangling from the nail, I whipped out my phone… and woke up laughing. Even in my sleep, my brain could not process buying akara from a seller accepting QR code payments.

What happened to NQR? I searched on the Internet and most of the articles I could find were dated 2021! The same year the QR code scheme championed by the Central Bank of Nigeria and developed by Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS) was launched. At the time of this writing, just a few days, maybe even hours before you read it, I checked on the Google App Store and the last update date for the NQR Merchant app was the 20th of May 2021. The download number sits at 10k+ and there are zero, yes zero, reviews of the app. By even our own generally low standards for local application downloads, 10k is very small, especially when you consider only a fraction of the 10k may still have the app on some devices, not to talk about being used.

According to text from the NIBSS website, “NQR Payment: It is a secure QR-code-based payments and collections platform designed for merchants and customers to receive and make payments for goods and services. This indigenous payment solution is powered by NIBSS for and on behalf of the financial services industry in Nigeria. The account-based transaction platform will unify all available closed QR code schemes in the country for consistent user experience and acceleration of digital adoption.”

QR code use has benefits, even in countries like Nigeria that don’t have the fastest or highest internet penetration. They are an efficient way of transferring information. QR codes contain a significant amount of data, including text, URLs, and even images. This means that they can be used to store and transfer a variety of information, such as product descriptions, payment instructions, and contact details. They are also easy to use. All that is required is a smartphone or other mobile device with a camera and a QR code reader app.

This makes them a convenient and accessible way of providing information to people who may not have access to the internet or may have limited internet connectivity. Finally, QR codes are cost-effective. They can be printed on a variety of surfaces, including paper, plastic, and metal. This makes them ideal for use in environments where internet connectivity may be limited or expensive, such as in rural areas or developing countries. You actually see use cases where you don’t even need to print; a customer can easily scan a merchant’s QR code from the merchant’s phone.

Read also: Need to adopt e-payment channels as cashless policy comes to stay

So why, in a post-Covid environment where the rest of the world is moving even more rapidly to cashless payments and in the moment where the government made a hamfisted attempt at pushing the cashless narrative, NQR didn’t make an appearance at the party? I believe the reasons can be rolled up into one which is all too familiar: a failure to plan for success.

By all standards, QR code payments should be the easiest to set up and use for merchants. If you keep inventory, you will be able to get QR codes automatically generated for the items in your stock and you can easily make new ones up as you go along. For the customers, all you need is your bank or fintech app; remember the highest downloaded apps in Nigeria?

Apps were not white labelled with the telecommunication companies, banks were not incentivised to build interesting functionality around QR and improve their apps but most importantly no plans were actually put in place for NQR to work for the tens of millions of merchants and even greater multiples of millions of customers.

It is not enough to build something you think is great; you must educate ALL the potential members of the value chain and show your confidence, which will hopefully be transferred to the users. Without this, innovations like this will continue to be born DOA.

Mordi is a former chief operating officer of Carbon (a lending fintech) and immediate past head of digital lending at Access Bank. Twitter: @epmordi