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Mobile Payments – Ten Years on, What Has Changed?
When in 2004 the Philippines’ Globe Telecoms launched its G-CASH product as a competitor to the successful money transfer launched in 2000 by Smart, the other mobile operator in the Philippines, it seemed clear that it was only a matter of time before mobile payments and mobile banking became in an important part of the way the poor received financial services. The M-Banking Dialogue 2009 of MicroSave-Microenterprise Access to Banking Services (MABS) held in Manila, provoked a reflection on what has changed in ten years in the field of m-banking. This briefing note considers some of the main developments.
Platform/Protocol In the early days of mobile payments, two main issues worried potential providers. Would there be coverage in the areas where unbanked and potential users will be located? And what apps/communications could the phones support? It turns out they should be more concerned with business models and customer value propositions.
The coverage problem has largely disappeared, at least for the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). Few mobile payment service providers now seem concerned about coverage. General packet radio services (GPRS) are already available in most low-income markets, and 3G has been launched or is planned. Grid reliability may still be a concern, but is probably not a bigger obstacle to operations than other infrastructure constraints commonly faced in remote areas (power outages, poor roads, etc.). In fact, in many countries mobile communications networks have proven to be the most resilient in times of crisis. The evolution of the phone is harder to track, but it’s certainly changing quickly. Three trends seem relevant. Figure 1 highlights the extent to which more and more phones are “enhanced”, by which we mean capable of handling over-the-air application downloads via GPRS.
A major concern ten years ago was the hassle factor experienced when customers needed to download an application using the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) toolkit. In fact, most early solutions that required menu downloads or customers to remember long “strings of numeric codes” were not commercially successful and created an asymmetry between target and reached segments. Although targeting the unbanked, it was largely the banked and literate who were able to manage the download process and the unbanked need dedicated assistance and support to manage this process, which dramatically increased the costs of launching a service. With more modern phones, a dramatic drop in phone costs, java applications, GPRS services (and an increasingly technological market), these problems seem to be largely solved for many users. Of equal concern was the ability of SIM cards issued by mobile operators to handle additional applications. Although little data is available, it appears that most networks have successfully migrated most users to 64k SIM cards in the normal course of business, thereby removing the throttling and also removing the need for customers to potentially complete a SIM swap confusing to be able to make use of a mobile payment. service
The third issue concerns security, and operators must make trade-offs between ease of deployment and use and security. These issues are and continue to be a key feature of debates about the right business model and the partnerships needed to succeed. There are now probably three groups of “core solutions” and related business models competing in the market, reflecting these trends:
i) Integrated and SIM-dependent solutions: The best example of this solution is Safaricom’s M-PESA, which is now pre-loaded on all new Safaricom SIM cards. Being built into the SIM card, the solution can work, and was designed to work, on the most basic phone and has end-to-end encryption. However, given the degree of technological integration, this type of solution is extremely difficult for a non-mobile network operator (MNO) to offer and therefore gives an MNO a huge advantage over other mobile payment providers and therefore therefore, it is a key feature of MNO’s core business. models
ii) USSD solutions: Solutions using unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) and simple menus to provide mobile payment solutions are equally successful. Mobile banking payment providers in South Africa have had the most success with USSD
services However, because the initial leg of the transaction is not encrypted or secure, most of these services have been limited to “closed-loop transactions,” where money is passed between accounts or users within a single bank, but not between banks. This is a major limitation to achieving widespread use of mobile payments, as interactions will be limited to the bank’s own customers and off-network payments must be in cash. As all phones can use USSD, the solution can reach large target segments, and as the USSD service does not require integration with the SIM card, these services can be launched with minimal involvement of an MNO. Although the MNO needs to agree to make the service available and this has been a problem in some markets. In USSD solutions anyone can “play” and banks are usually the winners.
iii) GPRS/Java solutions – including downloads. As noted above, downloading fixes to an “upgraded” phone is considerably easier, and an increasing number of people have, or will soon have, higher quality phones. Most people who are banked now probably have phones that can handle these types of downloads. This business model is perhaps the most questionable since the downloadable application can be from a bank, mobile network operator or any other third party. The downside remains that the solution is no more secure than accessing the Internet, and to compensate the provider for the associated risk, transaction fees tend to be higher.
What can the future hold? The future terrain of the industry will be governed by the question of customer and platform ownership. While mobile operators will continue to have the largest market share and natural brands, their ability to use this to lock customers into the products and services they offer will likely diminish. In today’s weaker global market conditions, and with even some emerging markets reaching saturation in the mobile phone market, it seems likely that the cost of improved phones will continue to fall and their penetration will continue to increase. Over time, and as with the internet, this will give a greater advantage to whoever has the best app and marketing campaign to get the app to the user’s phone or to attract them to your mobile-enabled website. In this regard, the announcement that Nokia phones in the future will come with a pre-loaded Nokia money solution that allows some kind of card-to-card payment (as it is based on a service provided by Obopay, http://www.obopay.com) . ) signals the start of much greater competition over the app that will define the mobile payment space.
What does this mean for strategies led by mobile operators? Mobile operators face an interesting dilemma. Its mobile payment services currently leverage three “assets”: its ability to provide services from the SIM card (and its control over the SIM card), its ability to prioritize messages, and an extensive distribution infrastructure ( which was originally created to sell airtime). However, some mobile operators have an explicit strategy to use their mobile payment platforms to allow users to purchase airtime at a significant discount. This represents a considerable cost saving for the MNO, as the cost of depositing funds into a mobile account is usually much cheaper than what an MNO pays to its reseller network. However, it is not in the reseller’s long-term interest to sign up customers to a mobile money service, as as customers stop buying airtime through the agency network, their business will decline. Solving the complexity of the reseller’s role in promoting the mobile payment service is therefore a key element of the business model design. In some cases, mobile network operators rely on agents to promote mobile payments, although due to the discount offered to users, it poses a long-term threat to the agents’ business. This contrasts with M-PESA in Kenya where no rebate is offered, precisely to protect and promote the interests of agents, who play a key role in customer registration and payments. In the Philippines, the dilemma is solved by having separate sales and service channels, without resellers being responsible for selling the service. At the same time, it appears that for the customer, instant access to airtime at a reduced rate remains a key driver of mobile payment adoption in most markets.
For banks and MFIs, the opportunity is to play catch-up. Few have yet been able to reduce their total cost of serving low-income customers by leveraging mobile as a low-cost channel, but at least in South African banks and several rural banks in the Philippines, there is enough experience and customer acceptance to start considering mobile as a central part of the “package”. This experience, as well as new revenue from airtime sales, remittance revenue and bill payment, will increasingly fuel customer profitability estimates and market opportunities. Likewise, an increasing number of younger customers access and purchase value-added services on their mobile phones and need to find a cheaper way to finance those purchases rather than using minutes (or charging) of airtime. The natural extension is that more and more users adopt solutions that link their mobile phone with their bank account, or download applications that facilitate this link.
Bottom line for MFIs: more options with less investment Whether mobile payments remain carrier-led or more like the card industry doesn’t matter too much to an MFI. Whenever a dominant and interoperable transaction infrastructure emerges, there should be great opportunities for MFIs to redesign business processes to reduce costs using the capabilities of mobile payment platforms. This is already happening in the Philippines and Kenya. However, it is equally important that any MFI considering adopting a mobile payments solution carefully examines the value proposition for their clients and what competing products/solutions are available.
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