Posts Tagged ‘mobile money agents’

Mobiles at the Border Post: Anti-Atlas of Borders Exhibition Slides (Jan 2016)

In January 2016, our submission for the Anti-Atlas of Borders Art Exhibition in Brussels was accepted for a commission of 500e. We were thrilled and surprised since we’d never imagined our work on mobile platforms, technology, and the borderland biashara could be considered from the arts and culture point of view.

Here is our story in the form of slideshow – each of these was printed in full size and hung on the walls.

Mpesa takes on Banks with Mobile wallet linked Prepaid Card

Mpesa prepaid card

Mpesa prepaid card

On June 10th, Kenya’s leading mobile payments platform, Mpesa, announced it was piloting a Lipa na Mpesa prepaid card linked to mobile wallets. The card is an interesting product in a Kenya’s payment market turf wars. Banks versus a dominant Telcos, Safaricom.

According to Techweez,

“The card, mirrors a user’s M-Pesa account, meaning whatever amounts are in your M-Pesa wallet are reflected in the card. The card is NFC enabled where a user can Tap and Go at the point of checkout when making purchases for goods and services. The card is to be used at merchants for purchase of goods and services and will have its own Point of Sale System”

The card links with customers Mpesa wallet and phone service for SMS notifications.

 

What does this mean for the industry?

Safaricom now owns and controls a complete vertical, end to end: SIM card, Communication network infrastructure, cash in cash out (CICO) agents,  acquired merchants and now, prepaid card and Point of Sale.

The company, has single handedly built out a payments infrastructure comparable only to a combined Banking, card company, ATM and Merchant network.

With its own proprietary Point of Sale System, Safaricom’s grip on payment channels will only tighten. Only approved Mpesa products will work on it, just like Safaricom decides who appears on SIM card Menus.

 

What is going on?

It seems odd that a company renowned for mobile payments is taking us back to cards, even after successfully scaling mobile payments in Kenya. It speaks to its competition with Banks at merchant level and cash in – cash out point like agents.

Financial Services agency in Kenya, Kahawa West

Financial Services agency in Kenya, Kahawa West

Kenyan Banks have always been on the back foot, trying to catch up with Mpesa. Eventually they teamed up to take on Mpesa. Partnering with Visa and Mastercard, banks have swamped customers with branded debit cards. Cards let you pay at acquired merchants using Point of Sales card terminals, withdraw cash from ATMs, and cash in  or cash out at agency banking points.

In contrast, Mpesa users already enjoy all the benefits of cards, even withdrawals from ATMs via their phones. The Lipa na Mpesa card  simply expands options for its customers’ mobile wallets to include what banks offer too – card payments.

Kenyan banks combined are yet to catch up, as per the Central Bank of Kenya statistics they have:

  • lower cards issued versus Mpesa subscribers at 19 million
  • lower acquired POS merchants versus Mpesa Merchants now at 44,000 merchants
  • lower bank agents versus Mpesa’s mobile money agents now more than 83,000 agents

To be fair, it is not the first time a Telcos has got into the card payment business. Airtel launched a Airtel Visa Card in February 2014. But hey, this is Kenya, Mpesa territory.

The card is currently being trialed in an internal pilot with 1,500 of its employees using the card to pay for their meals at the company’s cafeteria.

 

The importance of the agent/customer relationship for successful financial inclusion

The role of agent networks in East Africa’s mobile money and mobile banking roll-outs is widely documented; as an intermediary, a kiosk exchange point – accepting deposits for e-money/ withdrawals for cash and usajili (registration).

“. . .as the first point of contact, human agents help bridge the gap between a high-tech service and low-literacy clients.” – CGAP

But, most research falls short of exploring the subject in its entirety, specifically, the relationship between customers and human agents  – a recent example is the just released Agent Network Accelerator Survey – Kenya Country Report 2014 by Helix Institute of Digital Finance. To sum it up, I would say it was a numbers driven top-down approach to the subject (most likely focusing on what is best for the service provider), that failed to explore the human touch-points that make mobile money relatable.

“A lot these findings, I’m noticing, do indeed do all the research, but leave their underlying assumptions on people unquestioned [. . .] researchers go in & see behaviour – the What & How – but assume a lot on the Why”@prepaid africa

As I see it, there is a subtly rich layer to the mobile money agent and client relationship that is readily observable in close knit communities; frequent micro-transactions lead to conversations beyond basic transactions, off-the-cuff inquiries, and thus reinforce continued trust. For people not well acquainted with the intricacies of mobile money, or tech for that matter, these human intermediaries – the agents, most of whom happen to be women – are your trusted guides to the technology and face of the service providers.

Which is why, this assumption in a post by Mondato, hit a nerve.

“In the long run, as more fully developed digital payments ecosystems develop, there will be less need for agents . . .”

When talking about Africa’s markets, in mobile financial services or whatever context, research reports which disregard the qualitative nuance of local, social and communal interaction, lead easily to such assumptions. The  Helix report for example, grouped agents into 2 categories: rural and urban. On the ground however, these are polar extremes on a scale. If we go by strict definitions, this frame of reference doesn’t translate on the ground ; more common is a mix of both, or peri-urban or even rural folk who commute to their place of work in peri-urban. Perhaps a measure of cash intensity or ‘unbanked-ness’ in immediate contexts makes for a better framing?

My point is, the agent – customer relationship on Moi Avenue in Nairobi’s CBD, is markedly different from Githurai’s packed informal market place despite both located in Nairobi. In this cash intensive ecosystem, in the thick of all the chaos characteristic of informal micro-economies, human agents sit right next to mama biashara and boda boda guys. Here is where, you are likely to find the unbanked, underbanked and lower income segments.

I can’t help but think there is a larger role for mobile money agents in financial inclusion; one that resonates with commonly observed themes in this segment – social groups, local, face to face, trust. Like Monica, a cyber cafe attendant in Maai Mahiu whose role in the local community extends beyond simply offering internet browsing services. Jan Chipchase aptly describes this as symbiotic : customers, agents and service provider.

“The careful use of real world analytics combined with contextual qualitative understanding has the opportunity to reveal not only what people are doing, but also the nuances of how and why . . . this in turn will lead to the next round of service innovation insights”