This news item about Mumias Sugar Company caught my attention recently because of their decision to shift all wage payments made to sugar cane cutters on to the mobile platform. Advancing Sh 2000 to those who didn’t already own a phone, they requested that all participants choose between mPesa and Zap to register for their wages.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
What I liked about this initiative is how it takes a few existing components and puts them together into a program which offers a number of benefits to all the stakeholders concerned. The company minimizes the risk of transporting cash out to the cane fields and can now track payments far more effectively. The cane cutters, most of whom do not have bank accounts, have a secure method of receiving and holding wages, making bill payments and even savings. The bank and the operators suddenly get a few thousand new customers.
Most interestingly, its a payroll management system for a large enterprise with thousands of workers that operates primarily on the most basic phones rather than requiring complicated custom made software applications running on servers. Will it suddenly challenge the SAPs and Oracles of the world? Most likely not, there are few places yet with the prevalence and affordability of an mPesa like money transfer system. But as a barebones, low cost system that any company can implement its a superb solution for the local environment where computing infrastructure of the kind traditionally associated with such applications is expensive to install or maintain. It also provides the flexibility to deal with irregular payment schedules and amounts rather than just the salaried employees alone. Where else could such bridges be built to provide appropriate solutions?