MasterCard will be issuing every adult in Egypt a mobile-based debit card account that will double as a national ID card, the card brand and the Egyptian government announced on Tuesday (March 3) at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Under the agreement, roughly 54 million Egyptians will be part of a new MasterCard-developed digital ID program that will link citizens’ national IDs to the existing national mobile payments platform. That will let the government use the cards to make social benefits payments, while Egyptians can be paid wages and salaries through the cards, and individuals can make retail purchases, pay government fees and mobile-phone bills, and send domestic remittance payments.
It’s not clear whether the cards will also be usable for cross-border remittance payments, which are a significant part of the Egyptian economy. According to the World Bank, in 2012 personal remittance payments to Egyptians represented 7.3 percent of the country’s GDP — almost balancing Egypt’s trade deficit, which was 8 percent of GDP.
All transactions will be processed in real-time and will be fully secure, MasterCard said. The new system will be practical for the country because Egypt has more mobile phones than people — the mobile penetration rate was 113 percent in 2012 — while fewer than 5 percent of adults have a bank account, according to World Bank statistics.
The announcement didn’t cover issues of privacy or security — whether government agencies will have access to individuals’ mobile payments histories, and what happens if a phone is stolen, lost or damaged, or an account is breached. Those are issues that will be nailed down as the project progresses, MasterCard said. No date was set for the program’s rollout.
“With Egypt’s mobile penetration rate at more than 100 percent and an existing interoperable national mobile money platform, this collaboration with MasterCard will provide millions of Egyptians with access to an innovative, safe and simple way to conduct financial transactions using their national ID card,” said H.E. Atef Helmy, Egypt’s minister of communications and IT.
MasterCard and the government’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology will also jointly build an innovation center in Cairo that will leverage MasterCard’s latest technologies and make them available in the market, as well as focus on other forms of knowledge transfer around the new system.