NewsCase StudiesHow HesabPay Became the First and Only Interoperable Digital Payments Platform in Afghanistan

How HesabPay Became the First and Only Interoperable Digital Payments Platform in Afghanistan

By

Algorand Foundation

Industry: International payments | Use cases: Digital payments, humanitarian aid

In 2016, Sanzar Kakar founded HesabPay, a digital wallet, in Kabul, Afghanistan - a place where it’s estimated that 97% of the population lives below the poverty line. Built first as a solution to the humanitarian aid crisis, more than a dozen organizations have now used the payments platform, which migrated to the Algorand blockchain in 2022. These organizations are able to send funds directly to beneficiaries in urgent need across all 400 districts and 34 provinces of Afghanistan. HesabPay is available as an app on iOS and Android, and is also accessible to feature phone users via USSD or combined with a QR code card. HesabPay has quickly expanded its use cases and now allows users to buy airtime, pay electric bills, and send digital funds to other users. 

Highlights 

  • Users: Nearly 4K per day
  • Merchants: 1.7K active  
  • Transactions: Over 3.5M on the Algorand blockchain
  • Payments: 170K electric bills totaling $4M being paid monthly 

Challenge 

When HesabPay was founded in 2016, Afghanistan was in a humanitarian crisis, which was exacerbated by the regime change in 2021. The current situation remains volatile and uncertain. “Sanctions, frozen assets, a paralyzed banking sector, and a shortage of physical currency continue to drastically constrain liquidity in Afghanistan’s economy,” explains Algorand Foundation’s Director of Social Impact, Matt Keller. 

People in Afghanistan needed a simple way to easily send and receive money. "We wanted to create a system that would allow aid organizations to get money to people in need quickly and efficiently, and we wanted to make it easy for people to send and receive money without having to go through a bank," says Kakar.

Solution 

Kakar recognized that, while only 6% of Afghans have bank accounts, around 60% have a feature or smartphone, which, combined with a scarcity of physical currency in circulation, indicated the need for a digital solution. This led to the development of HesabPay. 

Digital currency has the potential to give Afghans access to much-needed funds. It allows for digital payments from international relief organizations to be made directly to those in need. To facilitate these payments, HesabPay needed trusted, reliable, affordable, open source technology, and the Algorand blockchain was the solution. Algorand enables digital payments to be sent in a low-cost and transparent way. 

HesabPay uses Algorand as a settlement layer. The settlement layer in blockchain is a fundamental component responsible for the finalization and recording of transactions. By integrating Algorand, HesabPay benefits from the instant and reliable settlement of digital transactions, which is especially important in a humanitarian context where timeliness is critical. “Transaction fees on Algorand are very low and consistent. Settlement is extremely fast, and the network is never down, making it the perfect solution for our needs,” explains Kakar.

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Upon signup and provision of basic personal information for standard identity verification (KYC), HesabPay creates an Algorand wallet for users to send and receive funds. These wallets are custodial, meaning that HesabPay takes care of the private keys of all its users. While the app is built on blockchain, its end users do not need to understand how the underlying technology works. HesabPay enables users to make digital payments using their phones or a QR code card and has locally managed offices spread across the country for easy access. The accounts are tied to phone numbers, and the consumer is able to approve payments with PIN codes and two-factor authentication.  

Digital literacy can be a barrier to using digital payments, but HesabPay has demonstrated how this can be overcome.

This video shows how easily consumers can be onboarded to the app:

Results 

There is nothing in the Afghan market remotely similar to HesabPay, and for the first time, the Afghan market can experience financial benefits that are already felt worldwide. By working together with Afghanistan Payments Systems (APS), commercial banks, and mobile network operators, HesabPay now handles daily transactions for nearly four thousand users. 

Humanitarian organizations, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) which recently named HesabPay as one of its “ten groundbreaking innovations,” continue to rely on HesabPay to send funds directly to those in need. HesabPay's initiative serves as a model for inclusive and efficient humanitarian aid delivery, marking a significant step toward improving the lives of the most vulnerable communities in Afghanistan.

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The HesabPay system provides great improvements in security and dignity for women when compared to traditional methods of cash distribution. Based on a notable study by the London School of Economics that tracked 2,500 women using the HesabPay app, key findings reveal that direct digital aid for women resulted in fewer skipped meals for their families. Notably, local authorities refrained from taxing beneficiaries of digital aid. Moreover, an impressive 98% of total assistance was spent digitally with local merchants, showcasing the platform's seamless integration into local economies. The study also emphasized the cost-effectiveness of delivering aid digitally through HesabPay, with costs significantly decreasing as the scale of the operation expands.

In a market where cash prevails and financial institutions face mistrust, HesabPay is changing the tide towards digital payments. Through its proven reliability, transparency, and usability, HesabPay is increasing trust in digital financial services and financial inclusion across Afghanistan with the support of blockchain technology. 

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