Besides the proverbial and pervasive dishonesty and the conspicuous absence of integrity in our commercial milieu, the almost 100% cash only transaction is a shackle on the development of commerce in Ghana. We need to change. Change is possible.
Is there a way out? Can an administration that shouts from roof tops that this is the 'golden age' of business be goaded to come out with some ideas or legislation to encourage Ghanaians to resort to issue of checks for disbursement of funds? I have few ideas of my own; with some creative incentives, Ghanaians, with lapse of time could be weaned from this primitive form of doing business.
I arrived here when automatic teller machines (ATM) were a novelty. An age-old of friend of mine who had been here earlier, was not using the system. On enquiry, he stated he would not give his money to a machine. Some time after he made this assertion, he applied to his an employee credit union for a car loan. The credit union indicated that he would have a lower rate of interest on the loan if he would have his pay check directly deposited into his checking account. Up to that time, my pal always physically received his pay check which he religiously handed over to a life teller for deposit. He agreed to have his pay check deposited into his account. My friend, since then, has been compelled to make deposits and withdrawals from the automatic teller machines. He could not remember when he last transacted business with a life teller.
Here is yet another anecdote of how a significantly little incentive could change a human behavior. Mr. Joe Green has been using tokens for the past 40 plus years to ride the New York City subway system. He did not bother to change his behavior when the new pre-paid cards were introduced. Joe considered these new cards as a fad. He could swear, that they existence would be meteoric. He is now using the prepaid card. He started when he learned that for a payment for ten rides, he could get an eleventh trip free.
Could the government institute a system where the average Ghanaian would derive some benefits out of using checks instead of cash only for transactions? I do not know. The fascist Kutu Acheampong, in trying to mop up excess liquidity in the Ghanaian system introduced new currency notes. Those who had bank balances received 100% conversion. Those without bank balances funds were discounted. Could the government initiate a policy that would reward those who use checks in transacting business? Could the private sector, spear headed by the commercial banks offer incentives for use of checks? After all, the commercial banks would reap enormous benefits when checks are used in most transactions. At the moment, we cannot imagine the incalculable cost to the whole economy of this primitive method of doing business. We spend a lot of man hours counting cash. Because of the cash only transactions, our currency bills that are already printed inexpensively and with inferior materials have a shorter life span with countless number of counting.
The banking sector could offer incentives to customers who operate savings and checking (current) accounts. These incentives could be a higher interest rate on such savings accounts. The customer who issues checks to pay bills like the now ubiquitous cell phones could have some transaction fees waived. Any Ghanaian bank worth its salt should know by now that it costs less to process a check for 300,000 cedis than to have teller cash a check for the same amount. It is not only the banking sector that needs to be creative in weaning the Ghanaian from this unproductive, inefficient and ineffective means of doing business.
The government should revamp the educational curriculum where high schools could introduce the concept of banks and their pivotal roles in an emerging economy like ours. During my time, only commercial students had more adequate understanding of current accounts. I must admit that I know not the situation now. My exposure to the wave of new immigrants who arrive here has safely convinced me that many Ghanaian have little knowledge of the banking system. It must be stated in passing, that many are familiar with treasury bills. Why do Ghanaians have more knowledge about and appreciate the concept of treasury bills? It is because they can relate to the benefits of compound interest and the time value of money. There is no magic here. Similar conscious efforts should be made not only to educate the Ghanaian but to offer him incentives to open and operate current. Incentives do work with Ghanaians as all human beings. Some forty years ago the Nkrumah regime offered incentives to students who offered science courses at college level. Those of us taking liberal arts courses received only 60 cedis for books and supplies, our science colleagues received additional 40 cedis making a total of 100 cedis per year. Many were those who took up science courses because of that incentive allowance. Incentives worked then, it would work now. The right ingredients must be put in place.
Operating current accounts entail availability of regular monthly statements. At the moment, most Ghanaian use post office boxes or the address of their employers as their mailing addresses. Young readers of this article should not be surprised to learn that, when John D. Imperialist was here, he laid the foundation for home delivery of mails. Mails were delivered to houses in Osu Estates, South La Estates and Korle Gonno. Instead of building upon this system, it has completely collapsed like most things that we inherited when the much maligned Caucasian was leaving. The postal service has to be improved and Ghanaians be encouraged to use their house addresses, cumbersome though it may be. It is a challenge that needs to be addressed.
In the long view of human affairs custom and habit may be contingent, but in the short view they are often as good as necessity. It is necessary that we initiate policies that we change the way we do business in Ghana. It is a necessity. With a government that seems to have run out of gas, a new initiative on how to minimize cash only transaction will be a fillip to the much-vaunted 'golden age' of business shibboleth.
The desire to act and the desire to act successfully are ultimate facts of human nature. Progress is impossible if we continue to do things the same way we have always done.
To advance, we need to overcome our weaknesses. Cash only transaction is a fundamental weakness that needs to tackled head on. It needs a committed leader. For without a leader nothing gets done. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.