Digital payments: Embracing UN principles for a responsible future

In today’s rapidly evolving world, the widespread adoption of digital payments holds immense potential for driving financial equality and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.

To fully harness these benefits, it is crucial to understand who needs to be responsible for digital payments, what it means to be responsible, and how we can ensure responsible implementation.

The United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Digital Payments provide a comprehensive framework that demands urgent attention and implementation to achieve equitable growth and protect the rights of citizens.

Digital payments have already proven their effectiveness in promoting financial inclusion across Africa. Millions of people on the continent now have access to faster, cheaper, and safer transactions, transforming their lives and empowering them economically.

Moreover, digital payments have the capacity to enhance the efficiency and transparency of humanitarian responses and improve tax revenue collection, fostering economic development and inclusion. However, to realise these potential benefits, responsible adoption and implementation are paramount.

Technological advancements continue to reshape African economies and societies, necessitating the adoption of responsible practices by African governments and key actors in the payment ecosystem.

The nine UN principles for responsible digital payments respond to the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap of Digital Cooperation and address the evolving global challenges exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. They provide a crucial framework that requires immediate attention and implementation.

The first principle emphasizes treating users fairly to level the playing field between affluent and underserved individuals. By doing so, digital payments can attract skeptical users and build trust. The second principle focuses on ensuring that funds are protected and accessible, guaranteeing that digital payments work reliably and consistently.

Additionally, the principles call for prioritizing women and dismantling systemic biases that hinder their adoption, ultimately promoting gender equality.

Obtain consent

Safeguarding client data, the fourth principle, addresses concerns regarding data ownership, consent, and bias. Consent should be obtained based on current data protection and privacy models, ensuring the protection of individuals’ personal information.

The fifth principle emphasises designing digital payment systems that cater to the diverse needs of the underserved, going beyond mere access and delivering relevant and high-quality product choices. 

Transparency plays a crucial role in responsible digital payments. The sixth principle highlights the need for simplifying the terminology surrounding digital finance and cultivating a culture of transparency that empowers users.

Interoperability, the seventh principle, promotes user choice by unlocking the full benefits of digital inclusion. Policy mechanisms, standards, and incentives can facilitate interoperability, enabling seamless transactions across different platforms.

To ensure accountability and redress, the eighth principle emphasizes the importance of clear, quick, and responsive recourse for those disproportionately affected by loss of funds. Data generated through redress procedures can be a powerful tool for improving systems, processes, and products.

Finally, the ninth principle emphasizes championing value chain accountability, ensuring that accountability and responsibility are shared along the entire payment ecosystem.

Understanding and adhering to these principles will enable governments, companies, and international organisations to create digital payment systems that are safer, more affordable, and more efficient than cash. Achieving digital financial equity will boost women’s participation in the economy and accelerate the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals across Africa.

By embracing and prioritising the UN Principles for Responsible Digital Payments, African governments and key actors in the payment ecosystem can drive positive change, ensuring that digital payments contribute to sustainable and inclusive development throughout the continent.

Now is the time for African leaders and stakeholders to rise to the occasion. By working hand in hand, they can create a thriving digital payment ecosystem that benefits all.

The responsible adoption and implementation of these principles will not only transform the lives of millions but also serve as a catalyst for equitable economic growth and development in Africa. Let us seize this opportunity.