Pakistan launches new state-run digital payments system

Created with the aim of improving financial inclusion in the country, where women are five times less likely to have a bank account.

Pakistan has unveiled a new instant digital payments system, called Raast, that is aimed at boosting digitalisation within the country's economy. 

The new digital payments system is being touted by the Pakistani government as an easy-to-use, efficient, and cost-effective payment option that will provide opportunities to small businesses and those without easy access to payments systems. 

Developed by the country's state bank, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Raast project was created after a review revealed that individuals living Pakistan who are financially excluded and less privileged, like women, did not have access to fast payments systems, Governor Falah Baqir said. 

According to the state bank, men in Pakistan are roughly five times more likely than women to have a bank account and, of the poorest 40% of the population, just 14% have an account.

"I hope that in years to come we will look back and see this new digital public good as an important contribution to our shared goal of giving all people the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty," Bill Gates said in a statement.

Raast will be rolled out in three phases. The first phase, which commenced at the start of the week, includes a bulk payment module that will allow for the digitisation of dividend payments, salaries, pensions, and other payments from government departments. 

In the next phases, Raast will digitise payments of micro and small business owners or merchants, which will allow them to pay suppliers on time and fulfil other urgent payment obligations, the state bank said. 

The new payments system will eventually provide person-to-person payments, including features such as sending requests for payments and initiating payments using identifiers such as phone numbers or any other alias.

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