Monday, June 27, 2022

A Tale of Three Cedis, Mobile Money, and Fintech? User Experiences in Ghana’s Evolving Moneyscape

By Vivian Dzokoto, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University and  IMTFI Fellow in the Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA) - Blog

A decade ago, I published “A Tale of Two Cedis”, a psychological perspective of user experiences of adjustment to a central bank-led disruption to payments in Ghana. In that and other papers, I explored how Ghanaians made sense of the old currency1 (what became known as the Old Ghana Cedi), and its replacement, the New Ghana Cedi. The latter was a banknote and coin series more portable than its predecessor due to the elimination of 4 zeroes.

Thereafter, I published other papers, based largely on interviews with everyday consumers, examining how people made sense (or didn’t) of Mobile Money. I researched the public awareness of and reasons for the then slow uptake of Mobile Money in Ghana. (Uptake has increased dramatically since then).

My research in Ghana’s moneyscape had numerous takeaways. Here are two examples. First, the old currency remains an important part of sense-making for a seemingly large subset of Ghanaians. Currently, 10+ years post-redenomination, some Ghanaians routinely convert the cost of goods and services to the old currency to get a sense of just how pricey something is – to determine the “real value”. In technical terms, such users default to the phased-out scale rather than the rescaled calibration of the fiat currency to subjectively determine worth. Second, from the user perspective, the onboarding of mobile money was partly hampered by a focus on the tangibility of money. Simply put, at the time, people preferred money that they could touch and feel – and handle, hide, wave, toss, present, and on occasion, flaunt. Apart from initial distrust of Mobile Money in its early days, lack of a perceived distinction between Mobile Money and Ezwich (a biometric card-based payment option and financial inclusion strategy introduced by the Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement Systems Limited (GHIPSS)), low levels of awareness and understanding of this phone-based payment tool, many of my respondents at the time were of the view that money wasn’t quite a money devoid of a physical form.

The face of payments in Ghana has changed dramatically since my “Tale of Two Cedis” was published. Yet distinct patterns prevail in Ghana’s payment ecosystem. I discuss a few of these below.

What has changed?

Today, the payment ecosystem in Ghana, while not flawless, is decidedly much more complex. While not cashless, it is certainly cash-lite. A digitally literate, bank account holder has the option of paying for goods and services via mobile phone using Mobile Money through a Mobile Network Operator. This is done via e-value in the local currency previously loaded onto their Mobile Money Wallet by a push transaction from their online banking account2, processed by a third party financial technology company aka fintech (invisible to the consumer) linking the banking system to the mobile money platform on the rails of GHIPPS products. Alternatively, the shopper could pay by cash, card (assuming the vendor has a point of sale machine), a third-party payment app, or via QR code. Ghana is the first African country to launch a universal QR code enabling instant merchant payments from mobile money wallets (GSMA, 2021). A frequently heard question today is “ Don’t you have momo? “. This is the case particularly when a vendor is unable to make the change, a perennial local cash-related problem in some sectors of the market economy. Churches, a HUGE presence in this very religious country, particularly embraced mobile money payments during the COVID 19 lockdown period. By doing so, churches have expanded beyond their significant engagement with the formal banking sector to mirror the nation’s cash lite, mobile money dominated payment preference shift.

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Featured Image: By PDPics, Pixabay-Licence,


  1. The term old “currency” sounds like an oxymoron. 
  2. Note: There are other ways of loading money onto a mobile money wallet, such as a push payment from someone else’s bank account or mobile money account, or by depositing cash with a Mobile Money agent.