State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Ashraf Mahmood Wathra announced on Thursday that the central bank, along with the Ministry of Commerce, was in the process of developing a national policy for the e-commerce sector.

The announcement came at the 10th JazzCash International Mobile Conference where Wathra emphasised that the e-commerce policy was required to attract foreign investment in Pakistan.

The conference was organised by Total Communications and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

“The policy shall support and work towards building a desired ecosystem for the e-commerce sector and also encourage local trade and foreign investment in the country,” he said, according to a statement.

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The SBP governor pointed out that the central bank was mindful of the general apprehension about online transactions, but it was working on bringing improvement and eliminating the problem.

“We are aware that the high cost of e-payment is due to the risk associated with online payments, but we are also mindful that a new mechanism for proactive fraud detection is being developed to safeguard merchants, consumers and banks from losses,” he said.

He added that the central bank allowed the entry of non-banks – payment system operators and service providers – into the domain of payment services through regulations in 2014. However, their effectiveness is yet to be seen.

Talking about the number of m-wallet accounts in Pakistan, Wathra said while the figure had definitely increased, it did not paint a true picture of the industry.

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“The number of m-wallet accounts stood at more than 16 million. But a majority of these wallets are still inactive,” he said.

“Nevertheless, branchless banking has seen acceleration in the past few years and basic financial services can now be accessed in the remotest parts of Pakistan through an agent network of around 350,000.”

Meanwhile, PTA Chairman Dr Syed Ismail Shah in a video message said the regulator would soon launch more services like Uber and Careem in Pakistan.

“Industry players in e-commerce should join hands for strengthening the digital market instead of trying to dominate each other,” he said. “They should keep investing in technology and big data houses to keep up with the world.”

Planet N Group of Companies Founder Nadeem Hussain said Pakistan was evolving through digital revolution, which directly contributed towards economic growth of the country.

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“The revolution has enabled people to open a basic bank account via mobile phones literally in one minute,” he said. “The time is not far when women in remote areas would have access to main markets for their products through six clicks only. Nonetheless, the challenge remains since the industry players are trying to activate dormant m-wallet accounts at the moment.”

Mobilink Microfinance Bank President and CEO Ghazanfar Azzam said the number of active m-wallet accounts stood at two million only. “Telecom-led banks are aimed at increasing the m-wallet accounts to 50 million by 2020,” he said.

Telenor Microfinance Bank President and CEO Ali Riaz Chaudhry said industry players should join hands to fight poverty as this would help them achieve the goal of financial inclusion. He anticipated agriculture as a potential growth area for e-commerce.

Finca Microfinance Bank CEO Mudassar Aqil suggested making e-payment transactions free of charge in order to achieve the desired results.