When three years ago, the Central Bank promoted the adoption of a common standard for payments via QR codes, we used a photo of the use of the system in a butcher shop at a fair in China. The general reaction of those who saw this image was one of deep skepticism: “This will never happen here, Argentines like cash”.
However, the penetration of digital payments in Argentina has been increasing in recent years, both with QR and with prepaid and debit cards. The center of this revolution is in everyone’s pocket: the cell phone.
The market keeps moving: just in the last month, for example, the app with a prepaid card Ualá announced the start of its operations in Mexico in the midst of a devastating success in Argentina; Banco Nación launched “BNA +”, a simple payment app that, like Banco Provincia’s “DNI Account”, allows easier interaction and QR payments for millions of users; NaranjaX, a fintech, in a short time exceeded 100,000 cards issued; MercadoPago launched a campaign so that “All your finances” are in that application; a new fintech, Ank, launched its app that allows you to make transfers from any of your bank accounts; and the project for banks to pay with QR from banking applications, Modo, announced that it would launch this quarter.
The garden is having its spring, and is close to becoming an ecosystem that exceeds the point of no return from which, for a matter of convenience, it will replace cash. Missing? The most important thing is that, just as between all those banking and non-banking applications money can be sent through a single alias system (nostalgic people still use the CBU / CVU, incredibly including the AFIP), that same “interoperability” exists with QR codes.
That would allow, for example, the millions of users of “BNA” and “CuentaDNI” who receive a social program there, to pay a merchant that is part of MercadoPago. The adoption of that way of paying would become massive and the system would become more competitive, because a payment application would not have to go “hunting businesses” by itself to be able to pay with QR. And companies that provide payment services to businesses could offer acceptance of payments with QR without having to go out to “hunt users”.
The Central Bank has in its power to advance in this line. The regulation project, known as “Transfers 3.0”, is linked to this point, because it establishes rules so that the actors of the system use bank transfers more as automatic means of payment, than asking the waiter for the alias of the restaurant to pay the bill. . That includes, among other possibilities, payments with QR codes. My impression is that the project has a certain excess of ambition, trying to imitate “total” regulations, as they exist in Mexico and Brazil.
What is actually required is a minimalist regulatory push, with three elements: 1) Require all actors (banks and fintech) that are enrolled in the CBU / CVU transfer system to have a single QR reader. 2) Force all the actors that offer to receive payments with QR (today essentially MercadoPago, although there are others such as Yacaré or Fiserv) so that any other actor in the system has the necessary information to make a payment in those businesses. 3) Establish a system by which the company that charges the merchant shares that fee with the app that issued the payment (in the jargon: establish an “exchange rate”, as it already exists with card systems).
Although these obligations may sound “interventionist”, it is known that in a network industry – such as a payment system – the free market does not always lead to the most competitive place. With three simple rules such as those mentioned, in no more than a couple of months Argentina could take a step that would reduce the costs of manufacturing and distribution of cash (increasing in a country with high inflation), public safety (due to less use of cash) and financial inclusion (because those who make payments with their cell phone also access a greater supply of credit and savings in this way).