When the future of payments is virtual

Tuesday April 06 2021

A virtual card allows mobile money users, even those without a bank account, to make payments to local and global online merchants across multiple digital payments. PHOTO/Eronie Kamukama


The global pandemic forced businesses and workers across all industries to adapt to one of the most challenging and sudden waves of uncertainty: Technology.

The technology and empathy wave is enabling a number of global work forces to remain productive, safe and connected. 

This has forced the digital payment platforms to find ways of increasing customer behaviour shifts towards a counterless medium of exchange.

For instance, you can now own a Mastercard debit card for international transactions without a bank account.

This is because for international payment companies like Mastercard, the most available means until now by which to reach many users especially in cash dominated economies like Uganda was through commercial banks. 

Mr Andrew Rugamba, manager Eco system Build, Airtel Uganda, said that that has changed as the mobile money account has better reach.


As telecoms partner with international payment gateways to make everything possible where customers can also pay tuition, buy favourite dresses and shoes by simply registering for the virtual card.

“Airtel Uganda and Mastercard partnership has led to the introduction of a virtual debit card offering Airtel Money customers a safe, convenient and secure platform to transact online globally both locally and internationally,” Mr Rugamba said.

The virtual (non-plastic) card allows mobile money users (in this case Airtel money customers), even those without a bank account, to make payments to local and global online merchants across multiple digital payments that accept Mastercard cards like Netflix, Uber, Amazon, Google play, Aliexpress and Alibaba among others, while ensuring that the customer’s financial data is always secure and private.

In addition, with this virtual card, we are empowering Airtel money customers to feel progressive and tech savvy as they conveniently transact from wherever they will be at any time of the day or night.

“In effect instead of owning a plastic card you will own a virtual card merged with your Airtel money account and you can transact. It is worth noting that if you are buying in foreign currency, exchange rates will apply to you. On the telecom side, the cost for now is fixed in shillings,” Mr Rugamba said.

Mr Lucas Tusiime, IT consultant, says that Covid-19 has poised a step where digital first industry players have to come up with ways to ensure global payments and digital processes enable people to send money to their loved ones across the globe instantly. 

He says a number of companies such as Mastercard, MoneyGram and Western Union are working towards alleviating the volatility challenges that arise from international accounts through leveraging on the digital assets.

“These have enabled the free up of capital and guarantee the most  competitive rates  through the use of virtual cards,” he says adding that it is encouraging communities and entities to come together as we transition through the post Covid-19 era.

Now the competition with banks for online payments has started in earnest with the likes of Mastercard awakening to the possibilities that the mobile phone offers and a wake up call to banks to do something.

Completing transactions

This might require a person to download an app to make the international payment

Mr Augustine Muhindo, Crypto trader and forex trading analyst in Uganda says one of the ways international payments are made is through cryptocurrency.

“Cryptocurrency is cross-border currency that is real time. It is not restricted to anyone, colour or race.  All it takes to make international payments using cryptocurrency is to study the industry/market and buying  crypto currencies which requires  one to have a “wallet,”-  an online app that can hold your currency,” .

This is done through creating an account on an exchange and transferring real money to buy cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum.

In addition, a person has to have or choose an exchange or online bureau where to trade from and the Capital to invest. 

“As long as money payment/transfer is online oriented and cost effective, then chances of competitive advantage over traditional/fiat currencies is very high,” Mr Muhindo says.

He adds that Ugandans have no choice but to embrace the trend of the new era of money because the industry is as old as 12 years since invention.


Mr Arnold Kwesiga, head of card acquiring, Absa Bank, says international payment gateways like XE, World Remit, Paypal, Worldpay have a higher volume of transactions and benefit from the economies of scale this presents.

“They are able to negotiate favourable rates and offer affordable pricing to the end user,” Mr Kwesiga says.