State Bank Adopts Measures to Encourage Digital Payments

File photo. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Pakistan’s central bank waives online banking charges to reduce need to visit ATMs, bank branches and promote social distancing

The State Bank of Pakistan on Wednesday announced it had instructed all banks to waive online banking charges to encourage digital payments and reduce the risk exposure of the novel coronavirus.

In a press release, the central bank said that the measure had been taken to help people stay safe from the ongoing pandemic and its potential impact. “The objective of these measures is to reduce the need for visiting bank branches or the ATMs and to promote use of Digital Payment Services such as internet banking, mobile phone banking etc,” it said.

Under the guidelines issued by the SBP, charges on online banking channels such as Inter-Bank Fund Transfer have been waived, allowing for free transfer of money through mobile phones or internet banking. “They [customers] will also not incur any cost in case of using ATMs or visiting bank branches for transferring large amounts and can avoid the use of cash,” the central bank’s statement said, adding that banks had been directed to ensure call centers/helplines were operational 24/7 for the ease of customers.

The SBP also said that the financial industry had been instructed to facilitate education fee and loan repayments through internet banking or mobile devices. “Financial institutions shall also run awareness campaigns through different channels to educate customers to use internet banking or mobile phones, limit use of currency notes and restrict branch visits,” it said, adding that care is also being taken to increase monitoring of cyber threats in case of any fraud arising from increased digital transactions.

Pakistan has over 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with two people having recovered and two died. Globally, the virus has now claimed nearly 9,000 lives with more than 219,000 people infected.

The government has advocated preventative measures over nationwide lockdowns—as adopted in other countries dealing with outbreaks—with Prime Minister Imran Khan saying Pakistan is too poor to be able to afford any sustained shutdown. Citizens have been advised to avoid large public gatherings, stay at home as much as possible and wash their hands thoroughly multiple times a day in a bid to halt the spread of the deadly disease.