Pakistan launches Bill Gates-backed Raast instant digital payments system

Pakistan has launched a new state-run instant digital payments system in a bid to improve financial inclusion. Known as Raast, the system is especially aimed at offering digital payments to women who have been financially marginalized for decades. The move comes at a time when the country has been working on regulating digital currencies.

Raast has been developed by the State Bank of Pakistan in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It has also received the support of the World Bank, Britain and the United Nations, Reuters reports.

In his statement on the launch, Bill Gates remarked, “I hope that in years to come we will look back and see this new digital public good as an important contribution to our shared goal of giving all people the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty.”

Currently, Pakistanis are served by a number of private-sector digital payment systems. They include Jazzcash and Easypaisa, two mobile payment systems operated by the two leading telecoms in the country. However, Raast becomes the first digital payments system to link government entities to financial institutions, Reuters reports.

The payments system will connect merchants, fintech, business, individuals and government entities, enabling them to send and receive near real-time payments via the internet and mobile phones. The government will also make payments such as salaries and pensions through Raast. It will also use the system to distribute nationwide financial support programs.

The system will be rolled out in three phases, with the first targeting digitization of dividends, salaries and pensions.

Financial inclusion is the main target for the Pakistani government with Raast. It will especially be seeking to offer basic financial services to women in a country where men are five times more likely to have a bank account. In addition to financial inclusion, the government is also seeking to boost its revenue collection.

The system comes at a time when the South Asian country is working on regulating digital currencies. As CoinGeek reported in December, the Pakistani parliament passed a resolution paving the way from the government to legalize digital currencies. The country’s securities regulator has also been conducting research on how best to regulate the nascent industry.

See also: CoinGeek Live panel, Better Payments: Improving the Consumer Experience with Bitcoin

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