Posts Tagged ‘Mobile Money’

Bedah Mengo charts an increasingly common path business owners in Kenya are taking to not only supplement their incomes, but also increase foot traffic – a move that adds another revenue stream while boosting in-store sales. Here’s a typical story of a business owner in the East African nation’s capitol:

Bob Mutie, who runs a cybercafe in Komarock estate, Nairobi , is among hundreds of traders in the capital doubling up as mobile money agents.

Mutie became a money transfer agent about eight months ago after running his core business for about two-and-a-half years.

‘Cybercafe is my main trade but I thought I should expand my business and try to boost revenue by becoming a money transfer agent,’ Mutie said on Wednesday.

He recounted he applied to a leading telecommunication company to become their agent, paid the requisite deposit of about 720 U.S. dollars and he was given the approval.

‘I made a little partition in the cybercafe and put a sign outside the shop that I was offering mobile money services. This did not cost me much,’ he said.

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Buried in a status report about the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) cashless initiative in Lagos is this nugget:

[CBN Governor Mallam Lamido] Sanusi said 15 mobile payment operators had been licensed in Nigeria and that as a result, 80 million mobile-owning Nigerians would benefit from financial inclusion and a cashless existence.

While there is reportedly dissatisfaction with the CBN’s overall effort to adapt an all-electronic payment system, harnessing the ever-growing number of mobile phone users in Nigeria will help ease the tension.

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Ilan Oosting urges mobile money platforms to remember the important role feature phones play—a song SlimTrader has been singing since our inception:

The current scenario has solutions aimed at smartphone users, who frankly are the minority by far. Yes, there are reports that close to 50 percent or more of the mobile subscribers in countries like the United States, Singapore, Canada and Hong Kong are now using smartphones. But if you start looking at a global scale, only 12 percent of the world’s mobile subscribers use a smartphone.

Yes, folks, no matter what the latest Android, iOS or Windows Phone sales figures tell you, we still live pretty much in a feature phone world! At the rate we are going, we are leaving out almost 90 percent of mobile users, not a good start when you are trying to drive consumer adoption on something as huge and important as payments.

The world’s developing nations will be where mobile payments will make the largest impact. The lack of infrastructure, financial services and regulatory hurdles in these nations make them an ideal springboard for mobile payments. These countries also have very low smartphone penetration rates, some going far below 10 percent of the mobile subscriber base.

Oosting goes on to praise one of our mobile money partners, M-PESA, which has achieved tremendous market penetration due its innovations in the feature phone arena.

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The most important ways of measuring the seismic cultural and economic shifts associated with the rapid spread of mobile technology in Africa are often incalculable. Even rogue economists and statisticians armed with adventurous research methods and fancy algorithms will have a difficult time quantifying, say, reduced stress levels of people completing a task in 10 minutes instead of 10 hours. So, when trying to impress upon skeptics the game-changing power of mobile technology on the continent, it often helps to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Enter M-PESA. One of our key mobile money partners, the Kenya-based company recently reported numbers so big even we had to do a double take. No further commentary is required. So, without further adieu, here are a few key stats from the 2011-2012 financial year:

43 percent increase in revenues

12,000 agents added for a total of 50,000 employees

15 million registered users

 For more details on M-PESA’s astonishing growth, visit here. And a hearty congrats from all of us at SlimTrader.

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The Economist cheers Africa’s economic surge:

AFRICA has made a phenomenal leap in the last decade. Its economy is growing faster than that of any other continent. Foreign investment is at an all-time high; Senegal has lower borrowing costs than Ireland. The idea of a black African billionaire—once outlandish except for kleptocratic dictators—is commonplace now. At the same time an expanding African middle class (similar in size to those in India and China) is sucking in consumer goods. Poverty, famine and disease are still a problem but less so than in the late 20th century, not least thanks to advances in combating HIV and malaria.

The anonymous blogger further highlights the increasingly important role technology is playing in the continent’s boom: “Africa has 400m mobile phone users—more than America. Such tools boost local economies, especially through mobile banking and the distribution of agricultural information.” As Matt Ridely argues, “pessimism about Africa is overdone and trade is transforming Africa for the better.” In other words: business is getting done on the continent—and lives are changing. We’re both excited and proud to be a part of it.

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The market in Bali County.

SlimTrader has entered the next phase of our Notore pilot program in the Northern Nigerian State of Taraba. We’ve been working with retailers, aka Village Promoters (VPs), for some time in order to upload their complete inventory, including quantity and price, into our database. Now that this stage is complete, we’re focusing on reaching out to the VPs’ customers, i.e., farmers.

This is how the service works: A farmer sends us an SMS requesting a specific amount of Notore fertilizer. Then we reply, via SMS, with a list of local VPs who have what the farmer is looking for and at what prices. From there, the farmer determines which VP has the right amount at the right price, then makes the purchase by sending another SMS message. He/she can either pay via one of our mobile money partners from his/her cell phone right then and there, or when he/she arrives to pick up the fertilizer.

In order to explain the service and to spread word of its availability, our outreach team journeyed to the market in the county of Bali and chatted with farmers directly. This is an important part of the process. It’s how we understand, at a very low-temperature level, the needs of farmers, which allows us to refine our approach to providing the Notore products they need to increase outputs and, thus, better their lives.

Some food for thought (no pun intended) gleaned from our market trip:

- While excited about the program, farmers are also hesitant, as it’s a new way to shop for goods. It’s a common, completely understandable reaction which is quickly overcome once farmers see how simple our system is.

- Most farmers have cell phones, so it won’t be difficult to train them on using our service.

- Notore fertilizer dealers are often difficult to visit in person. Thus, searching the dealers’ inventory via mobile phones prior to traveling is a major plus for farmers.

- The price of a text message is a concern, but we’re working to offer a cheaper plan.

To view more photos from our trip the market in Bali county, please visit our Facebook page.

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Jamie Holmes of The Atlantic Monthly flags a staggering statistic: “Feature mobiles have spread into some of the most remote areas of the globe, with 48 million people now with cell phones but no electricity, and by next year, 1.7 billion with cell phones but no bank account, according to one estimate.”

He further notes the game-changing impact the proliferation of text message-enabled phones is having on the way business is done in the developing world:

Nokia’s “Ovi Life Tools” offer agricultural, educational, and health information via SMS in India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and China. Txteagle, a business began by MIT’s Nathan Eagle, now uses SMS surveys to perform research into emerging markets, paying for completed surveys in mobile airtime. In time, the impact of such services on local economies could be tremendous.

With mobile money, the possibilities multiply. Are there services that help list and sell products via SMS? You bet. Pay taxes by SMS? Yup. Buy clean water at mobile-payment vending machines? Sure. How about having a crop insurance payout sent directly to mobiles based on automated rainfall measurements? That’s been done, too.

Last year, 4.16 billion users made SMS the most popular data channel in the world. An estimated 6.1 trillion texts were sent, up from 1.8 trillion in 2007. And while the proportion of customers using SMS for more than simple messaging is still small, in poor nations these services are already changing the nature of commerce, crime, reporting news, political participation, and governing.

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As we expand, so does recognition about the good work SlimTrader is doing. Case in point: Our founder and CEO, Femi Akinde, was interviewed by another major U.S. media outlet. This time, he sat down with Forbes to discuss our “promising start-up.” The video below is well worth your time and attention.

In addition, CMO Betty Radier traveled from our Kenya office to the Northern Nigerian state of Taraba, where she and her staff are training Village Promoters (VPs) on our MoBiashara service. These seminars are part of a pilot program with our client and partner Notore-an “agro-allied and chemical company” dedicated to  “championing the African Green Revolution by supporting local food production.” Such an effort, of course, is what SlimTrader was founded to facilitate. Which is why Betty felt it was so important to personally attend the demonstrations, community outreach being a cornerstone of the SlimTrader mission.

MoBiashara allows the VPs and the farmers they represent to use their mobile phones to purchase much-needed products, such as fertilizer from Notore. As Forbes describes the service’s myriad applications:

A traveler in Lagos, Nigeria can enter the text shortcode for a bus ticket and get a reply with a schedule and prices. He texts back to book the time he wants and gets a reply back with the reference number he needs to pay for the ticket via his mobile wallet. Same goes for a farmer who wants to buy bags of fertilizer. Or a doctor who wants verified medicine for his clinic.

A former Microsoft Partner Services lead for Western, Eastern, and Central Africa, Betty has filed a detailed report on her experiences working with 17 village promoters from the following areas: Wukari, Ibi, Bali, Gassol, Lau, Takun, Ardo- Kola Zing, and Donga. We’ll be sharing details of her findings over the next several days. In the meantime, please enjoy this sampling of photos, complete with captions:

Village Promoters, along with MoBiashara and Notore staff members.

Betty shows the Village Promoters how to use our MoBiashara service.

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We’ve had a banner few weeks here at SlimTrader-a heady mixture of excitement, surprise, and profound appreciation. First,  our CEO, Femi Akinde, was selected as a 2011 TEDGlobal Fellow. It’s a major-and yes, humbling-honor for him to have been included among a wealth of first-rate minds at such a prestigious event. To say that he’s excited to bring the SlimTrader message of social progress through entrepreneurial innovation to TED is an understatement.

But although Femi will be flying solo to the Edinburgh, Scotland-based confab, he’s quick to point out that his selection serves as a testament to the overall effort of the entire SlimTrader team. So, congrats to all, and keep up the good work!

In other (very) good news: Venture Beat reporter Ciara Byrne profiled SlimTrader in the June 15th edition of the New York Times. She clearly and concisely laid out the problems our MoBiashara service addresses, as well as the growing importance of our partners in the mobile technology boom such as M-PESA, Aritel, and MTN. Money quote:

Simple transactions from filling a prescription to buying a bus ticket involve long journeys and long waits.” The most precious commodity for the BOP (Bottom of the pyramid) is time[,]” said Akinde. “If you want to purchase a transportation ticket, you’re looking at a day-long ordeal involving multiple trips to various institutions.” That’s a day on which no work can be done and money earned. Time really is money to the BOP.

Despite the recent exposure, we’re of course doing anything but resting on our laurels. Stay tuned here – or join us on Twitter or Facebook – for more news in the weeks and months ahead, including a recap of Femi’s experiences at, and thoughts on, SOCAP Europe.

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