TAJIKISTAN: Promoting Reforms for Payments Systems
The National Bank of Tajikistan (NBT) department responsible for payment systems began preparing bidding documents and technical specifications for a centralized domestic center—a National Processing Center (NPC)—at the NBT to process retail card payments made throughout the country. The department did so in response to the perceived urgency of establishing a domestic processing capability for payment cards in view of (i) the inefficiency of having all payments cleared through service providers outside Tajikistan (mostly in Russia or Kazakhstan) and (ii) the fact that local banks were beginning to invest in their own systems, lead to lack of interoperability in the payment cards market. With assistance from the FIRST and a World Bank team, the NBT concluded that it was taking a somewhat ad hoc approach to procuring the NPC and, more generally, to developing Tajikistan’s payment systems.
The NBT wished to adopt a more holistic and strategic approach to the reform of payments systems. Experience in other countries has shown that a well-coordinated, holistic approach to payments system reforms contributes not only to the success of individual projects under way but also the overall financial infrastructure and, eventually, the economy. This international experience also shows that countries embarking on payment systems reform benefit from adopting a comprehensive development framework or strategy for national payments systems.
In addition, the Tajik real-time gross settlement (RTGS) system, which was also the systemically important payment system (SIPS) in the country, was operational but lacked many of the features and functionality that are considered standard among modern settlement systems. Lastly, the NBT’s oversight of the payments systems was not sufficient to monitor the anticipated growth of electronic payments. The NBT’s role was limited to collecting data from banks, and no unit within the NBT was explicitly assigned the responsibility to supervise the payment system.
The NBT approached the FIRST Initiative and World Bank for advice. In 2011, FIRST approved the Payment System Modernization project to address the challenges. In particular, it produced a national payments system policy framework that prioritizes and addresses legal, regulatory, institutional, and infrastructure reforms required for the promotion of electronic payments in Tajikistan.
In addition, it focused on facilitating the upgrading of key NBT-owned elements of the payments infrastructure. In particular, the project provided technical inputs to further the procurement of an NPC that is consistent with best international practice and modern standards. Furthermore, the project provided an assessment of the RTGS with a view to upgrade it.
Finally, the project also helped to deliver oversight rules for the payments system and delivered an assessment of international remittances. It operated until 2014.
The NPS policy framework, prepared under the TA project, was issued under a government resolution in October 2014. In 2012, the NPC was procured with significant TA from the FIRST project. It represents a substantial improvement in retail payments infrastructure and established a domestic processing capability for payment cards. Already, the NPC has been functioning well for over two years, allowing for processing of payments that would previously take place outside the country. In addition, the rules for payment system oversight delivered under the FIRST TA strengthened the NBT’s oversight of the payment system.
The medium- to long-term objectives were to improve the safety and efficiency of Tajikistan’s payment systems and to promote market confidence in the payment systems, and, thereby, in the financial sector and financial institutions, leading to greater deposit mobilization, among other benefits. Early indications are positive, as for the last two years deposits have been growing at about 20 percent per year.
Furthermore, the project’s assessment of the RTGS has generated a significant catalytic effect. On the basis of this assessment, the NBT decided to embark on replacing the RTGS with a more modern automated transfer system (ATS) and a central securities depository (CSD). The financing of this investment is made through the World Bank’s Private Sector Competitiveness Project, which allocates $2 million to replace the RTGS with an ATS and CSD. An international consultant has been recruited to prepare IT specifications for the tender and procurement of an ATS and CSD, which is expected to take place in late 2015 or early 2016.