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More than 2,5-million debit cards with biometric facilities have been issued to social grant recipients across South Africa. The final tally of cards issued could reach more than 9-million.

South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) has issued the debit MasterCard cards as part of the social grants disbursements tender which was awarded to Net1 UEPS Technologies subsidiary Cash Paymaster Services in January 2012.

The EMV/UEPS Debit MasterCard cards, with biometric functionality, are being issued by Net1 and Grindrod Bank in association with Sassa.

Sassa controls and manages the disbursements of 15-million social benefits to 9,2-million beneficiaries, who receive one or more of seven different social security grants available in South Africa on a monthly basis. These include: the State Old Age Pension, War Veteran Grant, Disability Grant, Child Support Grant, Foster Child Grant, Grant-in-aid and Care Dependency Grant. Spending on social grants will grow from R105-billion in 2012/13 to R122-billion in 2014/15, the 2012 South African Budget Review revealed.

A key feature of the biometric functionality of the payment cards is that it is used to identify social grant recipients using unique identifiers such as fingerprints and other personal information, which means that the payment cards cannot be used by any person other than the approved beneficiary to collect his/her grant.

“The biometric information positively identifies the beneficiaries of state welfare grants and provides greater convenience, safety and security for recipients,” says Dr Serge Belamant, chairman and CEO of Net1 UEPS Technologies. “Furthermore, it reduces the impact of fraud on government as the UEPS Biometrics solution will significantly reduce unlawful collection of grants, making sure that the funds made available by the South African government to assist those in need, are received by the people who need them the most.”

Recipients are able to use their Sassa debit MasterCard cards to pay for goods and to check their account balances for free at till points. In addition, they can withdraw cash at ATMs and till points for an affordable charge at several participating retail outlets including Pick n Pay, Shoprite Checkers and Spar.

The new system is dramatically reducing Sassa’s operating costs. Until now, it has cost Sassa between R26 and R35 per grant to pay beneficiaries. Under the new agreement, disbursement costs will be capped at R16.50 per payment, enabling the agency to save up to R3-billion in operating costs over the next five years. This means that the agency will be able to spend its budget allocation more effectively in the future, making a meaningful difference in the lives of more South Africans.

“The early success of the project rollout affirms MasterCard’s vision to create a world beyond cash, as electronic payments using Debit MasterCard cards opens up a world of financial inclusion for many South Africans who have previously not had access to banking products,” says Dries Zietsman, country manager of MasterCard South Africa.

“With over 2,5-million cards already issued since rollout in March 2012, it is clear that the cards are already being widely accepted by beneficiaries who are realising the benefits of a cashless environment,” he adds.