Cloud tech aids high availability, scalability for digital payments

Anticipating the high growth volumes for digital payments, the same approach was applied to PayShap. Photo: Supplied.

Anticipating the high growth volumes for digital payments, the same approach was applied to PayShap. Photo: Supplied.

Published May 10, 2024


By Ben Janse van Rensburg

There has been a remarkable shift to digital payments in South Africa and the rest of Africa in recent years. To put this into perspective, McKinsey anticipated that electronic payments would accelerate by an estimated 150% to reach $40 billion in revenues and $188 billion in transaction volumes between 2020 and 2025.

Many African countries, like the rest of the world, are embracing electronic payments as part of their digitisation efforts, and to create an inclusive economy that serves existing and emerging-use cases. Over and above that, real-time payments offer convenience and a safer way to pay. They have the potential to reach the under-served or financially excluded, enabling them to access a wider range of financial services, and to use their accounts for more than just transactions.

By leveraging newer technologies, digital payments have the potential to do even more, including speeding up the introduction of newer innovations to the market and paving the way for even more possibilities.

Connecting payments and technology

The World Bank report, “Innovations in Payments: Opportunities and Challenges for EMDEs” states that “payments are probably the financial activity most affected by innovation, undergoing radical changes from various perspectives”. Technological advances, such as cloud computing, contactless technologies, application programming interfaces and internet of things, among others, have enabled new products and services to be quickly introduced.

BankservAfrica is committed to ensuring that payments are always accessible to its customers, the South African economy and communities. Our organisational vision of building mutual digital infrastructure that connects economies has led us to continuously build modern, digital payments infrastructure that is highly available and scalable, innovating and preparing our systems for the future. We have made significant investments in technology infrastructure over the years. However, the global, scalable, programmable and on-demand availability has led us to adopt cloud computing. In 2021, we began our cloud-first journey.

High availability, scalability for digital payments

The idea of high availability in payments originated in the 1970s when several companies introduced redundancy in hardware, such as multiple power supplies and CPUs. Similarly, BankservAfrica’s interbank and interoperable ATM service, Saswitch, which was the first of its kind in the world, invested in several high-availability systems to make provision for the higher transactional numbers. These systems are still in operation today and are designed to be fault-tolerant, allowing them to recover quickly from events such as outages. They also have back-ups of additional data centres, networking, processes and procedures to ensure uninterrupted payments processing.

Anticipating the high-growth volumes for digital payments, the same approach was applied for PayShap. As South Africa’s first low-value, interbank, real-time digital payments service, aimed to appeal to all South African bank account holders, it intends to drive increased financial deepening by gaining trust and familiarity with electronic payments. Having already enabled 15 million transactions to the value of R9 billion by its first birthday on March 13 this year, the PayShap community of users is growing and is expected to draw even more users as new features are introduced for small businesses and merchants. Therefore, high availability and scalability for this service are essential.

Guided by the South African Reserve Bank's Vision 2025, the focus for PayShap was on low-cost, open systems and technologies that would steer the focus towards micro-services architecture and “cloud-ready tech”. The adoption of cloud technology from AWS has enabled BankservAfrica to house the architecture to scale up and size it differently, giving the fast process predictable or unpredictable demands at a rapid pace.

By leveraging tools and services offered by cloud platforms, there are also the advantages of accelerated application development and release cycles, allowing for faster time-to-market for new products and prototypes. There are also the advantages of less risk of security incidents, assurance of business continuity during unpredictable disasters or threats, to name a few.

Future-proofing digital payments

Organisations are increasingly adopting cloud technology for various reasons, such as staying relevant in the future, achieving scalability and significant cost savings. While many of these are applicable in our industry, it is important to have the right systems in place to cater for the demand at any given time.

In the payments industry specifically, it has become critical to modernise existing payment systems. Integrating newer technologies helps to prepare systems for the future and, more importantly, enables high scalability and high availability during critical times when transaction volumes by individuals and businesses rise at a rapid rate.

Ben Janse van Rensburg is the chief technology officer at BankservAfrica.