Cashless society — underpinned by technology
This Burger King sign advises the card machine is not working.

UNRELIABLE technologies and a lack of confidence in the banking sector have been cited as the reasons Jamaicans are opting out of holding their funds digitally.

Consumers and merchants alike, on a daily basis, have been complaining about the digital payment systems and banking sector that was created to help make conducting business easier, resulting in frustration.

"Just trying to make a bill payment online, sometimes don't always go as smoothly as you'd like it to be. Sometimes, just putting in your card information and it don't go through, or you make a payment and it don't show up on the other end," Keron, a consumer told the Jamaica Observer.

She expressed that while she would prefer using her card for more transactions, system failures don't make that possible.

An out-of-service NCB ABM .

"Even today when I try to get some water for the house and I had the card, I didn't have much cash and I could not make a payment because their card machine has a limit of over 500 dollars. I went to the ATM and it had no cash, so it's been really frustrating," she said.

Connectivity issues with point-of-sale (POS) machines and technological glitches have been just as frustrating to merchants, resulting in some avoiding the technology altogether.

Taxi operator Jardane Oliphant is one such example. He explained to the Business Observer that an inconsistent digital system can be a threat to his livelihood.

"When the people have the cash you know that the money is there, but you don't want to go all the way to Ochi or wherever [from Kingston] and when you reach now you find say the system is down or they don't have enough funds or they can't access it," said Oliphant.

Jevan Henry, assistant lecturer in the Department of Economics at The University of the West Indies, Mona. (Photo: Karl Mclarty)

According to Jevan Henry, an assistant lecturer in the Department of Economics at The University of the West Indies, the situation described by Oliphant has made people reluctant to be without physical banknotes.

"They want to ensure they have extra cash on hand for when the ATM or the POS machines break down. But then they draw a larger portion of money anyway and use the ATM less frequently," said Henry.

Figures from the Bank of Jamaica's (BOJ's) 2022 annual report showed that "the number of POS terminals increased by 4.6 per cent to 49 532".

But with all the digital payment systems in place, the lack of reliable or adequate broadband connectivity or functionality can hinder Jamaica's ability to quickly transition into a digital economy.

"We depend on technology heavily to run technology so you need proper internet broadband. You need telecoms to provide unbreakable consistent internet," said Dushyant Savadia, CEO of Amber Group, a global technology provider, in an interview with the Business Observer. He added that "if there are technical failures with the telecoms or infrastructure providers, that can hold us back".

The uncertainty of whether or not the card machine or the ATM will be working has leaked into every corner of business operations, contributing to more cash transactions.

Another reason for more cash being in circulation is the lack of trust for the banks. According to the World Bank, Jamaica has the highest distrust rate in the financial sector. Thirty per cent of the people sampled for the World Bank study, stated that they don't have a bank account because they don't trust financial institutions.

Distrust of the banking sector is the reason for a market vendor in Cross Roads, St Andrew, having no digital payment system.

"I don't really trust those things because as much as I use cheque, the account I use [is] not even mine. I never own a bank card yet. Never been to an ATM. Any cheque I get goes to my sister's account or my mother's account. I don't go to the bank."

And Denise, a hat seller in Central Plaza in St Andrew, expressed the same concern.

"Two seconds [after getting paid] I go down [to] the bank to get my three thousand dollars that the [customers] spent with me [and it] gone bout its business. I rather people pay me in my hand, I don't trust the bank with my money. I'm good, and they can keep their cashless system."

Ashley, a meat vendor, seemed to take his fear a step further.

"I try my best to keep away from the bank," he said while explaining that he believes banks are unreliable and that he doesn't think his money is safe in any.

"I don't have a bank account. My little invest transfer from a bank account to my little pigs and my two goats and my two fowl."

For Henry, the lack of financial literacy and digital literacy will hold back progress in the economy.

"Once we start to combine financial transactions using information communication technology... you need people to not only trust the financial sector, but you need them to also trust the ICT — and in our case, we have a lack of trust in both," he said.

BY CODIE-ANN BARRETT Senior business reporter barrettc@jamaicaobserver

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