The Effects of Digital Transfers on Iraq’s Economy
By Leila Serhan, Senior Vice President and Group Country Manager North Africa, Levant and Pakistan
For millions of families around the world, remittances are a vital lifeline. Global remittances sent from family members abroad to their relatives back home represent billions of dollars and these funds are often the only source of financial security for low-income households, providing a much-needed influx of cash to cover necessities such as food, housing, and health care.
In tandem, transparency is an essential component of successful cross-border payments. The frictional pain point associated with payments, including exorbitant fees and a disagreeable user experience, is now further exacerbated by the lack of openness in this sector. In Iraq, wars, displacement, and sanctions have crumbled a growing economy and left it with an underdeveloped financial system that is dependent on oil reserves. In addition, its historic cash dependency leaves businesses unable to transact using digital systems that are popular globally. While the Central Bank has issued 17 digital wallet licenses, poor visibility on the complexities of the payment process and associated fees results in a less than satisfactory user experience. It is therefore critical that banks prioritize transparency to improve the overall state of cross-border payments.
Where there are challenges, there are opportunities, and Iraq is one such country that could benefit enormously with digital payments. Financial literacy and education on the safety, security and convenience of digital payments is best carried out through partnerships between the private and public sector, all of which will ultimately drive financial inclusion.
Remittances are vital for economies within the MENA region, such as Iraq. They provide an additional source of income and support growth. Digital channels that speed up the value of remittances need to be strengthened to increase long-term financial resilience.
Remittances to countries in the Middle East and North Africa region have grown 2.5% in 2022 to $63 billion compared to a 10.5% growth last year, according to World Bank estimates. The implementation of electronic payment systems in Iraq holds the potential to curb corruption by minimizing cash-based transactions, improving transparency and accountability, and generating digital records of financial transactions.
How Iraqis Contribute to Their Home Country Through Remittances
Recent steps including the promulgation of a new currency and the launch of daily foreign exchange currency auctions by the Central Bank are steps signalling progress. Global remittance flows to poor and middle-income countries grew to $589 billion in 2021, according to an earlier World Bank report. By 2022, Iraq saw personal remittances worth $624 million.
In a world that is diversifying away from oil, pursuing green projects and measures to fight climate change, Iraq’s current financial system and oil dependency is a challenge and an opportunity. Since 2020, the pandemic and the oil price crash has forced some economic reform for the country. Currently the GDP has marginally increased, with non-oil GDP rebounding in 2021 and expanding at an estimated 3.2% in 2022. Sectors such as retail, trade, transportation, hospitality, and construction are seeing significant expansion due to investment.
More recently the digital payments framework has seen a serious upgrade, with telecommunications operators and fintech partnerships bringing convenient and secure digital payment solutions for businesses and individuals.
With Iraq currently experiencing unprecedented economic growth, Visa is committed to working closely with its clients and partners to help build the future of money movement for the country. Earlier this year, Visa’s regional leadership team had visited the Iraqi leadership to discuss improving access to digital payments in the country. To achieve this, Visa is focused on supporting the country’s efforts to expedite digitization efforts across all business segments, particularly in driving electronic payments and acceptance infrastructure in Iraq. Visa launched several initiatives and partnerships in Iraq, including an agreement with the International Network for Cards and Digital Payment Services (INC Iraq) to launch the first digital-only payment card, called “NEO.” Moreover, Visa had partnered with the Central Bank of Iraq to offer training for merchants as part of its global Practical Business Skills workshops.
Benefits of Faster Money Movement with Visa’s Innovative Solutions
A recent study published by Visa titled “Money Travels: 2023 Digital Remittances Adoption” concludes that consumers perceive the future as digital with 53% of them turning to digital apps for money transfers. Besides, more than 70% of consumers want a payment solution that enables rapid transfers and alerts. As a result, we could highlight our service’s speed and efficiency, making it more appealing to future prospects.
Cyber security is another pressing issue in the current digital world. According to our research, customers have a strong appreciation for the Visa brand in relation to Real-Time Payments (RTP) solutions, with 80% indicating that the brand adds credibility and confidence to their experience. With the prevalence of security threats, Visa’s assurance of safety and trust in their RTP offerings is an invaluable benefit. We believe customers will continue to appreciate the Visa brand for its renowned security measures and trustworthiness in RTP services.
With greater visibility into the process, users will have more control over their payments and be able to make informed decisions regarding fees and other aspects of their payments. This will, in turn, result in a better user experience, lower fees, and overall better outcomes for all stakeholders in the payment process.
Despite the emergence of recent, adverse developments in the economy and a shift in consumer behavior, Visa strives to make digital remittances an appealing alternative for individuals and businesses alike. We recognize the benefits that digital remittances provide and are working to make them a viable option for people around the world. The combination of these factors, coupled with our commitment to providing customers with the best service, make digital remittances an attractive choice for those looking for a reliable and faster way to move money and we are proud to be at the forefront of such an endeavor