On Thursday, January 26, 2023, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) launched a domestic card scheme developed in partnership with the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS). The card, AfriGo, is the first of its kind in Africa and joins RuPay, UnionPay, Elo card scheme, and JCB card schemes as some card schemes launched by national governments.
The CBN’s decision to launch a card scheme has left a few people puzzled and led to several questions. In this article, we provide answers to some of these questions.
What is a card scheme?
Card schemes provide the infrastructure for users to conduct transactions using their debit, credit, or prepaid cards. For example, if you want to withdraw money from an ATM or PoS agent, that transaction is made possible by technology provided by a card scheme. There are three major card schemes in Nigeria – Mastercard, Visa, and Verve. With the addition of AfriGo, we can expect a fourth major player.
Why is the CBN launching a card scheme?
This is possibly the biggest question for most Nigerians, and here are some reasons put forward by the CBN.
- Financial inclusion: The Central Bank has been on a financial inclusion drive for most of the last decade. According to the CBN Governor, AfriGo will help drive financial inclusion in the country.
- Free up forex reserves: Pretty much every Nigerian that occasionally follows the news knows the difficulties encountered when trying to get foreign exchange for transactions outside the country. From students who need to pay their fees to businesses that need to pay for goods and services, there is scarce dollar for those who need it, and the CBN plans to free up some of that through AfriGo. For example, if you used a card issued by your bank at your local supermarket, the fees for that transaction was previously paid for in dollars. With AfriGo, that would no longer be the case.
- Reduce the operating cost for financial institutions: According to the CBN, AfriGo will reduce the operating costs of cards in the country. For example, charges on the cards will be paid for using naira and will not be susceptible to dollar fluctuations.
- Data sovereignty: Financial institutions generate valuable data by processing financial transactions. Two of the largest players in the card space in Nigeria are owned by foreign organisations, and in an age where data has assumed great significance, the CBN wants to have data sovereignty.
How about Verve?
Verve is another popular card scheme in Nigeria, and unlike Mastercard and Visa is owned by Interswitch, a Nigerian company. So, why is the CBN building an alternative? One could argue that the CBN hopes to spur competition in the sector, especially as the CBN Governor alluded to Nigeria’s low card penetration rates when launching AfriGo.
When can I get the card?
You'll be unable to get the card for a few weeks as banks are not yet ready to start routing payments through the card scheme. However, the CBN Governor mentioned that a cut-off date would be announced in the coming weeks, so banks should begin issuing the cards shortly after.
Will my VISA and Mastercard still work?
Yes. According to the CBN Governor, all existing cards will continue working without any challenges, and you may not need to get the AfriGo card.
How will the card work?
The AfriGo card will work in the same way as your Visa, Mastercard, and Verve cards. You'll be able to use it for transactions across the country, subject to specific limitations by your bank.
Who can request AfriGo?
Anybody with a bank account in Nigeria can request the AfriGo card at their banks.
How do I get the card, and how much will it cost?
Getting an AfriGo card will work the same way existing cards work. Users will have to request for the cards from their banks. There is no available information on how much the AfriGo card will cost as it is not yet in circulation. However, given the CBN claims the card scheme will be a cheaper alternative to existing cards in the country, it is safe to assume that the card will cost less than ₦1,000, which is what it costs to get a debit card in most commercial banks in Nigeria.
Can I use the card for international transactions?
The AfriGo card will be used for all online and offline transactions within Nigeria. Domestic card schemes usually work within a country, with a few of them working outside the country. However, it is unlikely that Nigerians will be able to pay for transactions conducted outside the country yet.
How secure is the AfriGo card?
Security is an important topic when choosing a card scheme as cybersecurity attacks increase globally. According to the CBN, the new card scheme complies with global security standards, including EMVCo.