Disaster-affected communities are left vulnerable in more ways than one. But a new initiative is aiming to enhance disaster relief efforts with the use of electronic payments. Scott Salmon, General Manager, International at i2c sat down with MPD CEO Karen Webster to discuss the importance of eHumanitarian solutions and how prepaid cards are reshaping the way relief funds are disbursed.
A multi-functional electronic prepaid solution, created through a partnership between international nonprofit Oxfam, electronic payments leader Visa, and issuer processor and technology provider i2c, is serving as an innovative payments initiative for communities struck by natural disasters across the globe.
While natural disasters are an unfortunate reality, the Electronic Prepaid Solution (EPS) Project brings an eHumanitarian approach to ensuring impacted individuals are able to receive funding in a safe, convenient way through the use of prepaid cards, instead of the traditional disbursement of cash payments.
"I2c is uniquely situated to provide a rapid deployment, quickly and efficiently, anywhere disaster strikes. That’s really how this partnership came together; it’s one of those situations where the stars aligned to provide a very important solution to people that need it the most,” Salmon explained.
"This solution is an electronic way to get funds to people who need it immediately. At its core, EPS provides a more secure, more convenient, more cost-effective and fully transparent way to get funds to people as quickly as possible."
After a disaster hits, the Oxfam organization arrives on site to provide prepaid cards equipped with funds that disaster victims can use for immediate necessities — thus eliminating the need for significant amounts of cash to be transported and distributed to victims in the field, which can be both unsafe and inconvenient.
i2c provides the platform on which the disaster relief funds are managed and allocated for the program and where reporting is done to ensure complete transparency on the cash disbursement. The platform not only enables funds to be loaded onto the prepaid cards but also allows recipients to make purchases and retrieve cash out of cards at both ATMs and cash-out locations.
According to Salmon, the flexibility and operational support offered by the EPS solution enables the electronic payments to work even in the “most challenging of circumstances.”
"There could be cases where Internet and mobile networks are not available, so the solution was developed in a triage approach to ensure it works in those different environments, which was a critical factor in being able to provide the solution,” he added.
The pilot of the program was launched in the Philippines at the end of last year, running for three months and distributing 2,700 cards and roughly $188,000 in disaster relief funds to beneficiaries.
But a surprising and positive discovery came out of the EPS trial: Many card recipients continued to use the payments solution to perform basic banking services they may not have otherwise had access to.
"Recipients became quite interested in gaining access to that basic level of banking service. Over time, that card basically becomes a bank account in your pocket; after taking care of immediate needs, it can be used to top up mobile phones, transfer funds to family members in another town or even pay bills electronically, all saving a lot of time and money and effort for these individuals,” Salmon said.
The EPS solution has found a way to not only support innovative disaster relief funding but also support financial inclusion for those who may be left out of the financial mainstream.
Looking forward, Salmon said i2c is interested in continuing to support financial inclusion initiatives in the long term.
"As it relates to financial inclusion and the eHumanitarian initiatives, we are in very advanced discussions with various government entities and also NGOs around the world,” Salmon explained.
"I can’t disclose that yet, but what I can say is that we will have some very exciting news in the near future building on the project we’ve recently completed with Visa and Oxfam."