If one sits down to take an account of how technology has become part of his/her life it may be difficult to think from where to begin. Almost everything what is done is driven my some sort of micro processor by it the wake up alarm set in a mobile phone, tea maker/toaster, unlocking of car to step in, elevator, biometric attendance, working at desktop or laptop computer and between making and attending telephone calls. It may be very interesting to take into account what one used to do manually a few years back and now performing the same activity with a click of key.
The oldest thing the middle-aged generation could recall is computerized utility bills received, thanks to the mainframe computers installed by the commercial banks. This has changed to e-bills sent by credit card issuing banks, cellular companies and Internet service providers. Though, one still received utility bills printed on paper but one has the option to pay it without going to the bank, using Internet-based banking. Sending money by money-orders has been replaced by electronic transfer using infrastructure of cellular phone companies. The transfers, which used to take days and could not be done without going to a bank can now be performed in a few seconds either through using a computer or cell phone.
Investing in shares of public limited companies is more than half a century old practice in this part of the world but buying/selling has never been so easy, again click of a key. As the daily business volume is spread over billions of rupees, supporting infrastructure has to be created. Now the complete platform comprises of KATS (owned by Karachi Stock Exchange), National Clearing Company of Pakistan (NCCP) for settlement and Central Depository Company (CDC) for custody of shares in electronic form. Though, it is a rather old story many surviving can recall ‘out cries’, transfer of shares taking days and movement of tons of papers shares on daily basis. Added to this is the advantage of ‘online’ trading option whereby buyer/seller even need not call a broker. SMS alters are generated for every transaction and on can see his/her holding in the account without calling the broker.
A rather newer phenomenon is Pakistan Mercantile Exchange (PMEX), country’s only multi commodity futures exchange. Interestingly in the equities market three entities i.e. KSE, NCCP and CDC are involved, as against this all three functions are performed at state-of-the-art technology driven platform at PMEX. A feather in the cap is that various software used at PMEX have been developed in-house. PMEX has a brief history, at present it deals in cash settled futures only but investors want it to introduce deliverable contracts. To accomplish this, other supporting infrastructure has to be created that will involve, modern warehousing facilities, collateral management companies, active involvement of financial institutions.
Buying grocery has always been a problem for the house wives. Metro has solved this to a large extent as buyers can place order online and collect the goods at specified time. Even a walk in customer need not carry cash and make payment by using credit/credit card. This has become possible only because of convergence of ICT. Many other outlets are trying to offer comparable services and it is believed that the paradigm shift will enable the vendors to get further convenience.
This also reminds one of the recent food outlet, which makes nothing but takes orders online of through phone and deliver fast food of different brands. This chain also uses credit card payment facility and delivers food at buyers’ door step free of cost. The interesting part of the story is that the food is delivered from the nearest outlet of the brand and only a few know the location of the place where orders are booked. To popularize the concept initially handsome discounts were offered. The price, quality and prompt delivery won the hearts of people and it is believed more food outlets will start using their facility.
Benefits of technology
It has been a common regret that Pakistan suffers from financial exclusion but involvement of microfinance banks and cellular companies is fast changing the canvas. Now people can send/receive money using facilities of financial institutions and cellular phone companies. The transaction can be completed as conveniently and as swiftly as one can buy balance from an easy load facility. Opening accounts with such a service provider bring a person into official channel. This on one hand ensures security of funds and on the other hand curbs money laundering.
Recipients of remittances have many complaints against the banks that included delayed payment. While it is true that commercial banks now handle over one billion dollars on monthly basis, deployment of technology is helping in overcoming this problem. One can foresee the days when one will be able to open up account with global operators enabling the sender to directly deposit/transfer money to the beneficiary account maintained with a local bank.
Since regulations controlling foreign exchange inflow/outflow are very stringent neither the government nor the people have full faith in alternative delivery channels. It is expected that with the passage of time confidence in alternative delivery channels will be fostered. Initially, people were reluctant in using an easy load facility for payment of utility bills and transfer of funds. However, now the daily transactions run into millions of rupees, both highly educated and illiterate use the facility with the same confidence.