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15.01.2020 Opinion

Offertory, Tithe Go Digital As Churches Introduce E-Payments---Part II

By Nana Prempeh
Offertory, Tithe Go Digital As Churches Introduce E-Payments---Part II
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This is a followup on Francisca Asamoah’s article in the Daily Graphic on 12th January 2020 at 16:46 about Offertory, tithe goes digital as churches introduce e-payments.

On Sunday evening, I received a link to the story via WhatsApp from a Professor friend specialised in Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship Dr. Adumza.

After reading, I realised I had to contribute to this discussion and throw more light on the topic as it touched right on what my team and I have been doing for the past five (5) years.

In Francisca’s lovely and good submission, she summarily documented that most churches are using MoMo (MTN Mobile Money) to collect offertory and tithes. I will describe this as partially true since it does not cover the breadth, length and advancements made by churches in going digital with their offertory, tithes and other donations. The purpose of this article is to enhance her work and expand the topic for readers especially the church community to understand the advancement. Before I give you the full picture, let introduce myself and define my relationship with the topic and the church community.

I’m a serial tech entrepreneur and a pastor who has spent the last six (6) years of my life building technology for churches and businesses. I mostly focus on online and offline payment/transactions innovations and Church Management Software design, development and sales. I co-founded Asoriba and MyChurchPay in 2015. Together with my co-founders, we have processed transactions worth a few million for churches and businesses. The work my team in Asoriba and MyChurchPay have executed on has been featured on CNN, BBC and many other local channels. We have been able to drive financial inclusion in Ghana through the church community. For this work, I was inducted into Forbes 30 under 30 2016 list and voted the most influential Ghanaian in Science and Technology by Avance Media also in 2016. With that said, let’s explore the topic of churches digitizing donations.

First, we need to distinguish the following digital payment channels to understand the topic: Cards, Mobile Money, Bank Transfers/Wire transactions. Card transactions that are done through the debit or credit card given to you by your bank. It’s often called ATM cards by most people. Your card could be a Visa, MasterCard or Amex Card, just to mention a few. Transactions done through mobile money wallets constitutes mobile money transactions. It can be MTN Mobile Money, AirtelTigo Cash or Vodafone Cash. Bank to bank transfers or wires constitute transactions done directly from one bank account to another bank account. Other forms exist, however, we will pay attention to these three(3). It is important to note that churches have already been using all these three mediums for payments aggressively and not just mobile money.

There are currently three dominant Mobile Money platforms on the market. They are MTN Mobile Money, Airtel Tigo Cash and Vodafone Cash, however, a new entrant GMoney has just begun and will be going to market soon if not already on the market. The term MoMo is primarily used for MTN Mobile money, which has the majority of 11.6 million registered mobile money wallets which currently represents 93.9% of the mobile float. However, this number does not reflect active users. Active users across each wallet show how people are actually using the different Mobile Money channels but that information is very difficult to get. That said, it is important to note that, churches are using all the mobile money channels not just MTN Mobile Money. However, over ninety percent of all mobile money transactions are initiated from MTN Mobile Money.

Most churches will display all three numbers on screens for members, followed by a bank account. Members typically have to dial either *170# — MTN or *100# — AirtelTigo or *110# — Vodafone and follow a lengthy process to donate. Our company saw this as a problem, hence we developed a single USSD code service that enabled members to make donations/payments directly into the church’s bank accounts irrespective of the mobile money wallet they have. Some of our free USSD codes, *714*25# for smaller churches and *773# for a larger church like ICGC are being actively used. With a code such as *713*25#, a church member needs to enter a church ID once and can subsequently give without knowing the church’s wallet numbers or bank account. For example, a demo church ID is 500. Hence after dialling *713*25#, you enter 500 as ID and bammm you’re good to go for the rest of your donation life in Church via USSD. Churches no longer need to show different mobile money wallets numbers on a screen to drive mobile money donations, just a single USSD code will do.

Secondly, some members sign cheques or make banks transfer into a church’s bank account displayed on a screen. We realised many members saw that process as cumbersome and rarely remembered the numbers or the right name to sign the cheque to. Most of these members also actually had debit or credit cards from Visa or MasterCard and in some cases AMEX . To make life easier for members, we developed a single card and mobile money payment portal that could be sent via WhatsApp, SMS, email or embedded in the church’s website or social media page/feed. This innovation of a single link eg. Demo Church or has made it easy for anyone, anywhere in the world, to give any amount to the church at any time. No need to ask for change if the only notes you have are too large to give as it happens sometimes.

Churches are actively using multiple digital channels to make giving convenient for church members here and abroad, not just Mobile Money as Francisca articulated in her article. Digitizing Offertory and Tithes for churches started with the inception of money transfer from Ghanaian Christians in the diaspora. Those living abroad who had very deep connections with their local churches back here in Ghana sent their tithes through Western Union or MoneyGram in the past. That was the first digital means of giving offertory and tithes.

With the launch of MTN Mobile Money in 2009, Airtel Money and Tigo Cash 2010, Churches saw the need for creating options for digital payments. However since most members were not actively using their wallets, the adoption was not aggressive by churches. Then followed the birth of aggregators like Mpower Payment System somewhere in 2015. A lot of churches signed up to one of Ghana’s first online payment solution primarily for online mobile money and card payments. Around 2016, Expresspay and SlydePay began to gain solid momentum and quite a number of churches listed on Expresspay as a payment alternative.

Around the same time, our company, Asoriba had just begun providing a suite of solutions for churches including payments by aggregating aggregators such as ExpressPay and SlydePay to serve the church. It was in this period that we got a clear picture of what the need of the church really was. Churches needed a digital payment solution which had online and offline capabilities. It had to cut across three disconnected payment channels, namely, mobile money wallets, card payments and bank transfers. With this realization, we built a singular affordable and user-friendly payment solutions called MyChurchPay.

The solution we developed addresses the needs of the different demographics/kinds of people in a typical church. Some individuals do not use smartphones but still want to give digitally, while others love to use smartphones. MyChurchPay covers both USSD (Offline) and Web Links, Widgets and Popups (Online) payments. To learn more about how USSD is used in a church, check out my article on “A Modern Digital Church”. Our solution handles transactions anywhere in the world and updates all the needed accounting ledgers in a web finance tool we provide for the church accountant. The finance tool enable church accountants to record offline transactions like cash, cheques and bank transfers in a single tool.

This makes it easy to pull reports and have a 360 degree understanding of what channels are being mostly used, where people feel most comfortable and what things people are giving for. In summary, churches have adopted more than just Mobile Money as alluded by Francisca, they have adopted the entire spectrum of online payments. The only one left to be adopted is bitcoin, which will soon become the main payment channel with companies like Sesacash growing rapidly.

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