A project run by central banks of the 15-member Southern African Development Community aims to complete a pilot project harmonising the payment infrastructures of the four Rand Monetary Area countries within two years.
News of the initiative came from Tim Masela of the South African Reserve Bank who was speaking on a panel at Sibos in Amsterdam about Sepa "replicants" - payments initiatives worldwide that are building on the experiences of Europe's migration to a single euro payments area.
"Learning from the experience in Europe is very useful," he says. "Particularly in the area of legal frameworks."
Subsequent project phases propose an extension to the wider SADC group and the creation of a single currency for the region, even though this is unlikely before 2018.
"Although there is a common currency target for the region of 2018, we don't think it's feasible by this date. But we want to make sure that any new payment infrastructure we develop can support it," says Masela
In the first phase of the project, which the central banks led by the South Africa Reserve Bank are planning, the group plans to run a pilot requiring minimal capital investment. It will seek to integrate the existing bank and payments infrastructure across South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho to ensure all cross border transactions can be processed without correspondent arrangements.
Masela says he expects this will take up to two years.
In the second phase, once it's been demonstrated that the integration results and scale of transactions make it worth proceeding, the group will seek to build new shared infrastructure that can serve not only the four pilot countries, but the entire SADC group. This would probably take a further three years, says Masela.
The final phase would seek to completely dismantle barriers to cross-border banking, irrespective of the HQ location of individual banks. Masela cautions that such a move will require considerable legal change and political will to proceed.