Ernesto Rodríguez Hernández, Deputy Minister of Communications, speaking at the Round Table, stressed that, although progress has been made in the implementation of electronic commerce in recent years, the speed and intensity necessary to generalize this type of trade in Cuba has not yet been reached.

For Rodríguez, electronic commerce is essential to achieve greater efficiency, effectiveness and transparency in public administration and improve the quality of life of citizens.

Among the main potentialities to boost electronic commerce in the country, Rodríguez has highlighted the existence of two national payment gateways, Tranfermovil with more than 4 million customers and Enzona with more than 600,000, as well as the penetration of mobile telephony that reaches 7.8 million Cubans with a mobile phone and 6.6 million who access the internet through the telephone. In addition, the population coverage of the mobile data signal is more than 85%.

Rodríguez pointed out that in the last five years the use of magnetic cards to carry out electronic operations has increased, but it is still very limited in some sectors. In the non-state sector, for example, the necessary levels have not been reached.

The director urged to take advantage and enhance electronic payment functions that require lower levels of investment, as an alternative to the great limitations in the availability of ATMs, especially in the 99 municipalities of the country that do not have ATMs.

The deputy minister highlighted the facilities offered by electronic commerce for the payment of services, such as the payment of electricity, which in 2020 was made by 38% through electronic channels.

In addition, new benefits are being developed such as the payment of taxes on public documents, which currently cover 75% of these services.

For his part, Julio Antonio García Trápaga, director of Electronic Commerce at ETECSA, highlighted the success of Transfermovil as an electronic payment project in Cuba, which has allowed the diversification of these payments for more than eight years.

According to Trápaga, practically in every Cuban family there are one to two members who use transfermovil, which denotes the capillarity and deepening that this platform is having within society. In addition, it handles 75 million operations per month, which represents a significant growth compared to the results of the previous year.

Trápaga also stressed that the growth trend has been maintained in the last five years and this is a sample of how the service is creating a need in users. In addition, the pandemic has boosted the implementation of electronic payments in virtual stores, which has been an important step for Cuban society.

Another important aspect is that the payment of taxes and identity and migration procedures has been extended through electronic payments. In addition, work has been done to improve accessibility for people with visual disabilities and other age sergeants who did not have a magnetic card with the use of the virtual purse have been included.

As for the Mobile Wallet, Trápaga explained that it allows all payments for telecommunications services and also enables the inclusion of an important group of the population that until now was not participating in electronic commerce, that is, the unbanked sector.

"Those people who for reasons of age or others do not have a bank card and until February 18 – when we received the license granted by the Central Bank, Resolution 32 that protects the operations of the Mobile Wallet – could not make electronic payments, and now they have that possibility. "

"Among that population group, he said, are young people between 18 and 22 years old."

He explained that with the Mobile Wallet you can also make transfers in both currencies (CUP and MLC). "Through Transfermóvil between five and six million transfers are made, and most of them are payments that are being made by natural persons."

In addition, the Mi Transfer Exchange offers advantages such as being able to control expenses and a highway of opportunities in which we can perform dissimilar operations.

Trápaga announced that it is currently working on five development lines, and four of them dedicated to the Mobile Wallet "taking advantage of its versatility".

Electronic payment in domestic trade

QR codes in Havana del Este warehouse. Photo: Karina Rodríguez Martínez/Cubadebate.

Speaking at the program, Inalvis Smith Luben, Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade (Mincin), explained that the process of electronic commerce in domestic trade activity began in 2019, in a first stage by Point of Sale Terminals (POS) in construction materials stores.

In 2020, the development was extended to the use of the QR code, "which in terms of investments generates less expenses and can be advanced with greater agility".

The deputy minister commented that work is currently being done on virtual stores.

"We are committed to extending it not only to the stores of the domestic trade network but also to service establishments, in the basic business units of gastronomy perfected with the new model that is being applied -framed in the Cuban Sabor platform-, not only with the offer of services but also so that the population can make reservations through electronic payment platforms. "

As for electronic commerce between companies, he explained that "it is another of the projects in which the Mincin is immersed and that is planned to be deployed this year, starting with the province of Havana, with a wholesale unit and a retail unit; Closely linked to the products of the regulated family basket that are marketed in the wineries, which is where the largest number of consumers go".

The expansion of electronic commerce in the activity regulated by the Mincin is linked to the process of computerization of consumer registry offices, which is now 98%, and with the development of the virtual warehouse.

"These are actions of modernization, transformation, in tune with the process of computerization of society," he said.

According to Smith Luben, "in all these processes electronic payment is transversal".

He assured that Havana and the Isle of Youth are the territories that reach the highest percentage of the deployment of the QR code as a payment option, by any of the two aforementioned platforms (Enzona and Transfermóvil).

The availability of use of these payment channels in other territories of the country should be expanded, he said, adding that "both in state and non-state establishments."

The Mincin has concentrated mainly in state establishments, with a deployment in the network of 82%, in the warehouses (64%) and in the chain stores Cimex (90%) and Tiendas Caribe (36%).

The deputy minister said that the population should continue to be literate about the facilities of making electronic payments in warehouses and other establishments of domestic trade.

"It must be internalized that electronic payment, electronic commerce, is a necessity, and that it is here to stay."

He stated that the consumer should insist on the use of the payment option through the QR code, and can go to the helpline (80022624) if any establishment in the network is not using this facility.

"We also need to work on reducing the excess data required of consumers to make electronic payments, which slows down the process and then makes it easier for people to withdraw cash."

He commented that in order to deepen the measures of banking of domestic trade, it is necessary to insist on the communication, training and qualification of the sales force personnel. "The main promoter of this payment method is the dependent."

Likewise, "work must continue to implement incentives for these sales personnel and bonuses, together with the entities providing services and banking companies."

The common goal, he said, is "to achieve incentives that promote the use of payments through electronic channels."

He also announced that Mincin has evaluated establishing payments exclusively through electronic channels for the lease of spaces and premises to the state and non-state sectors.

Construction materials stores, installment sales of industrial items and accommodation service will be maintained, he added.

The vice minister reported that for the concept of electronic payment have been sold in the domestic trade network about 220 million pesos, 1.1% of total income. "There is a lot of potential."

Boosting electronic payment channels within the improvement of the commerce system in the country is an objective that, although it has been stimulated for some years, still does not reach the expected levels, he said.

The goal, he said, is to ensure that all retail establishments of local subordination – meaning gastronomy, services and the sale of goods – have the option of payment by electronic means in QR Code mode.

"It's a cultural issue rather than a technological one"

Electronic payment, both by QR code or POS, has been perfected. Photo: Abel Padrón/ Cubadebate.

In the final minutes of the Round Table, the Deputy Minister of Communications, Ernesto Rodríguez Hernández, emphasized that among the most important challenges to advance at the speed that the country needs in the field of electronic commerce is "to achieve greater authorization and use of electronic payment, especially through the generalization of payment by QR code."

"We must ensure that all commercial establishments in the country – whether state or private – have electronic payment enabled, and also greater popular control of the issue."

Likewise, "work must continue on strengthening the infrastructures of the platforms, guaranteeing greater security and confidence, and that they are increasingly friendly to use".

The deputy minister reiterated that work must continue on social culture, because it is a change of mentality. "It's a cultural issue rather than a technological one."

In that sense, "the work at the territorial level must be strengthened in terms of the requirement that electronic payment be present in each entity, in each business, where a service is provided."

Likewise, "the potential of universities and research centers must be used much more to develop new e-commerce offers."

He explained that electronic commerce also made it possible to organize logistics issues, organize storage systems more efficiently, and accounting and financial systems.

"We must give a total shake-up to electronic payment between legal entities," said Rodríguez Hernández, and argued that "that is where the largest commercial and financial volumes move."

No less important is the search for incentives that favor the use of electronic commerce by both customers and service providers, as well as promoting the use of the Mobile Wallet, he said.

On this facility of Transfermóvil, he commented that "it multiplies by n times the possibilities of banking of society", so that the benefits and their use must be expanded at the national level.