Shopping without cash

The latest facility Bank of Bhutan started in at least two shops in Thimphu is one service that most people have expected from our banks a long time ago. The bank’s merchant payment service allows shoppers to shop without cash and merchants to concentrate on their business.

Shoppers can pay through the bank’s mobile banking service and merchants are saved from going to the bank on a daily basis as the money is directly deposited in their account. At a time when the point of sale, another facility to reduce cash at counters is not picking up, this comes as a welcome move.

We are among the few countries left in the world where shoppers still carry wads of cash for shopping. This gets worse as the value of money depreciates and when Nu 1,000 can only get a bagful of vegetables. Any banking service that could reduce the use of cash should be appreciated, especially in the capital as most shoppers can read and write or at least punch in the numbers.

Cashless transaction is a norm in developed countries, to the extent that carrying wads of cash raises eyebrows and draws suspicion. It will take time to imbibe the culture in the country as we are so used to carrying cash. But it will change if we have facilities to use our cards or phone to pay for goods and services.

The POS facility was one move in this direction but most of the time they are not working.

And the notes we are carrying are not the cleanest. There are only a few countries where soiled notes are in circulation. We are one of them. The irony is we have a standing clean note policy.

Weather such a facility will boost business is yet to be seen, but what it can do is reduce the notes in circulation and obviously notes will be newer if fewer hands are changed. Somehow even with almost a half dozen banks, the competition to go cashless is not picking up.

Banks alone cannot push it. We know from the few facilities Bank of Bhutan started. The B-wallet, M-BoB and often times, the ATMs, are not immune from problems.

Like many online services, online banking uses the internet for their customer friendly services. A poor internet service is enough to undo the good efforts. Bank officials are quick to blame the telecom company when customers complain. Surprisingly, the blame is passed back to the bank when the service providers are questioned.

The blame game will not end. But what we could do to help such facility thrive for the benefits of the people is prioritizing a reliable internet connectivity. The condition of this service can make or break the trust between clients and banks, shoppers and merchants and the reliability of the service itself.

The government is working on a redundancy through Bangladesh to secure our international link. This needs to speed up while the local links between dzongkhags needs to be secured too.

We have all the dzongkhags connected to 3G, but the reliability is not as good as the coverage. In big places like Thimphu, 3G services should stay ahead of demand. The rest will work.

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