President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to leverage mobile money in mitigating coronavirus sets an example to the rest of the world how FinTech solutions can help in times of crises.
The Central Bank of Kenya also announced that it would be quarantining cash for at least seven days. Why? Because cash is dirty and carries many bacteria and viruses.
The World Health Organisation in its briefings advised people to stop using cash if possible as the paper bills may help spread coronavirus.
Research has shown that cash can carry bacteria or viruses for several days and hence the reason why it is advised that people wash their hands regularly.
One of the methods China and Korea used to slow down the virus was the application of ultraviolet light or high temperatures to sterilise the bills, then sealed them for 14 days, before releasing them back into circulation.
A 2017 research, Filthy lucre: A metagenomic pilot study of microbes found on circulating currency in New York City, by Julia Maritz and five others, swabbed $1 bills from a bank in New York City to see what living organisms glued on the paper currency.
They found that there were several kinds of species of microorganisms. The most abundant were the ones that caused acne and many other harmless skin bacteria. They also identified different types of bacteria and viruses.
In India, Scientists at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) studied the microscopic environment of different denominations of its rupee currency notes that they collected from street vendors, grocery stores, snack bars, hardware shops, chemists and such places where one would expect to find money that has frequently changed hands.
The study found 78 disease-causing microbes and a similar number of antibiotic-resistant genes. Eighteen of these genes were so common that they were found in all the currency samples that the team analysed. Some of these genes confer resistance to essential drugs like penicillin. Organisms carrying these genes might, for example, be resistant to medicines used to combat all sorts of bacterial infections.
There have been several other similar studies based on which most countries are trying to minimise the use of hard currency.
Iran, one of the most affected countries with coronavirus, last week asked its citizens to reduce the use of paper money as it is aiding the spread of the new coronavirus cases. Several other Middle Eastern countries too, are encouraging their citizens to minimise the use of cash as a strategy to fight the coronavirus.
It is only a matter of time before every country turns to the digital currency, sometimes referred to as stable coin. Sweden soon will issue an e-Krona in place of its paper currency.
Other countries at advanced stages of issuing digital currency include China with its digital yuan, Uruguay developing its e-Peso.
All of these currencies will leverage blockchain, a technology that underlies cryptocurrency. With digital currency, there will be less stress on the risks that we now face in the form of diseases that might not be curable.
The benefit of contactless payments is not just to prevent the disease from spreading. For a start, in a country like Kenya, such payment will reduce petty crimes of stealing.
They are often safe and secure making it easier for consumers to track payments. They also facilitate the development of new business models, expanding economic activity and job creation.
A few years back, it was unthinkable that someone will borrow money without ever stepping in the bank but FinTechs leveraging Artificial Intelligence have made it a common occurrence.
Cash is filthy but it does not mean that all paper money carries dangerous bacteria and viruses. It is the moment like the one prevailing across the world that forces everybody to think of every little intervention to help humanity overcome the crisis.
In Kenya, we perhaps don’t have a problem switching to contactless payments but there are millions of people out there who have no option but carry dirty cash in their pockets.