Online interbank payments now possible

Financial: Individuals wishing to obtain the occupancy certificate from the Thimphu Thromde can now instantaneously receive the certificate, with the introduction of the Bhutan Immediate Payment Service (BIPS).

While the thromde under the G2C programme had already initiated the online service for obtaining the occupancy certificate, the final payment part was still missing. This resulted in clients swamping the thromde office to obtain the certificate physically.

In an attempt to promote the use of digital payments in the country, the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) in collaboration with the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) launched BIPS, an ePayment gateway system that allows interbank online fund transfer services through the Internet, mobile phones and ATMs in Thimphu yesterday.

The system enables interoperability of payments across the banks including ePayments between G2C (government to citizen), G2G (government to government) and B2B (business to business) services.

Meaning, individuals can now perform instant person-to-person fund transfers to and from accounts maintained within the member banks (BoB, BNB and Druk PNB) via Internet and mobile phones including ATMs. Individuals can also make over-the-counter payments such as for utility bills, government online services, ticketing and travel and payments to educational institutions.

For instance, a taxpayer, after declaring all of their tax details in the customs web portal, will be able to make the final payment online to the Department of Revenue Customs account held with the bank.

Similarly, a vehicle owner wishing to the pay renewal fees will now be able to make the payments online from the transport authority website.

Information and communications ministry secretary, Dasho Karma Wangchuk Penjor, during the launch said that due to a lack of national interbank immediate fund transfer infrastructure, the government’s G2C online services requiring payment could not be delivered end-to-end through online means to the public as envisaged. “Moreover, individuals were not able to transact electronically between accounts maintained with different banks.”

Currently there are more than 140 online public services offered by different government agencies through their respective websites. Of the total services, 46 G2C services require payment.

Information and communications minister, DN Dhungyel said that with the launching of BIPS, the payment scenario in the country would be uplifted by many folds. “It will bring immense benefits to the citizens and service providers in terms of convenience and efficiency,” he said, adding the initiative will also enable online trade in the country.

Both the minister and the secretary highlighted the importance of making the optimum use of the facility provided by the government. Dasho Karma Wangchuk Penjor said that as the majority of the Bhutanese are farmers, illiterate and largely live on subsistence farming, they do not have easy access to banking services.

However, they do have access to mobile phones added Dasho Karma Wangchuk Penjor. He requested RMA to explore possibilities in enhancing the payment services where citizens could make payments and fund transfers using their mobile phones without the requirement of maintaining bank accounts.

As of December 2016, approximately 685,747 people in the country have subscribed to basic cellular services of which some 485,656 have subscribed to the Internet services. Roughly 461,434 have subscribed to 3G and 3,573 have subscribed to 4G.

Meanwhile, other critical services under the Road Safety and Transport Authority, BCSEA, economic affairs ministry and foreign affairs ministry’s passport division are expected to be integrated in the system within two to three months.

The project manager under the DITT, Sonam Penjor said that Bhutan Development Bank and T-Bank will also be a part of the system soon. “Now that the ecosystem has been enabled, private businesses and other agencies can register themselves with the RMA to use the facility.”

Sonam Penjor said that since BIPS is based on a two-factor authentication (2FA) method, where individuals require a combination of username and password, and M-PIN and one-time-password (OTP) to access the system, an extra layer of security is added to the system.

The project is established at the cost of Nu 15.63 million, and was funded by the Government of India. Lyonpo DN Dhungyel and the Indian ambassador Jaideep Sarkar launched the system.

Younten Tshedup 

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