Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nigeria still not getting it right on mobile money- experts

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One of the challenges of Mobile money includes inter-operability

The slow growth of Nigeria’s mobile money market is an indication that the nation is still not getting it right; and this has become worrisome, finance experts have said.

The experts said this needs to be faced head on with tangible solution following.

At the third Mobile Money Expo 2013 which started in held in Lagos on Wednesday, experts gathered to discuss trends in the financial industry and came to a conclusion that the growth of Nigeria’s mobile money market does not correspond to her population, when compared to other smaller African countries where the service has recorded success.

The two-day event, which was themed: ‘Promoting Inter-operability’, brought together finance experts, who gathered from various countries of the world to share their experiences. They said mobile money, if implemented efficiently, can be the catalyst needed for the nation’s economic growth.

Interoperability, a term often used in a technical systems engineering sense, is the ability to allow different systems and organisations have the interface properties of their products inter-operate, exchange, and use information without any restricted access or implementation.

James A. O’Brien and George M. Marakas, authors of Introduction to Information Systems, define interoperability as “Being able to accomplish end-user applications using different types of computer systems, operating systems, and application software, interconnected by different types of local and wide area networks”.

Chalapathi Rao Immidi, Director and Head, Global Business Development, Mfino, while making his presentation titled ‘Interoperability: Realising the full potential of mobile money’ said interoperability is needed, for providers to share their infrastructure networks, thereby enabling multiple allowance, without which the economy would not grow.

“Imagine all of us, not being able to talk to people not on your mobile network, because they are on other networks” he said.

According to Mr. Chalapathi, providers would have to operate in unison, to make the adoption of mobile money easier.

“This would enable many factors and many people, organisations and banks would be encouraged to participate and there would be more range of products to offer customers,” he said.

Mr. Chalapathi said mobile money has a lot to offer apart from the basic sending and receiving money as it can be used for government disbursement, salary payment, settling of daily paid workers and more.

“A synergy in operation would offer greater value to customers. Countries that connect though bridges are the one that had their economy grow. Once there is connectivity, communication and a common source, there would be a pool of customer expansion, agents would find it easier to run operation while reducing cost and there would be general access expansion” he said.

Huge investment required

Lanre Osibona, CEO, InnovaTechNG, however, said the issue of inter-operability, even as it is not a simple matter especially as it requires huge investment; must be faced head on.

He, however, said that for interoperability to be achieved, it would have to cut across provider platforms, agents and customers, such that providers can send money to other provider platforms seamlessly; agents can serve customers from any provider, without having to have multiple platforms to perform their service; and customers can access any provider irrespective of the SIM cards, network or handset they possess.

“The question is, are we mature enough for this? Is the market mature enough for this?” Mr. Osibona asked.

He said Nigeria has not exactly done that badly, as Paga, one of the leading providers of mobile money in the country, is ahead of MPesa, of Kenya, if statistics they have presented is to be followed.

“Technology must be open for developers to meet our local challenges. Culturally, we are so into cash and that is a challenge in itself. There needs to be a drive. We need to transform and change the orientation of people. You have to make people want to use it. We are doing okay, but we need to do more” he said.

There are over 20 licenced mobile money operators in Nigeria.

However, only 4.8 million adults (5.5 per cent of the adult population) are aware of mobile money operators (MMOs), according to a 2012 survey on Access to Financial Services in Nigeria by Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access, EFInA, an independent financial sector development organization.

The survey, dated November 22, 2012 stated that only 0.4 million adults (0.5 per cent of the adult population) are registered with any mobile money operator and for those that are active users, mobile money is most often used to buy airtime.

Osondu Nwokoro, Director, Regulatory Affairs and Special Projects, Airtel Nigeria, said the available figures on Nigeria’s mobile money market are not particularly exciting, years after the first licences were granted.

“It should not be so”, he said.

He identified other challenges, apart from interoperability, to include awareness, cultural apartheid towards financial services products, illiteracy, funding, technology, and the absence of a structured and consistent regulatory policy.

“We need to start thinking of unique ways to address the issue. We are in it and we need to make it work,” he said.

Low levels of awareness of financial terms/products could hinder the uptake of products such as mobile money, non-interest banking and microfinance; however, high levels of awareness does not necessarily result in high levels of uptake, according to the EFinA Survey.

The top factors which would encourage the 48.1 million adults who said they could be encouraged to use mobile money, to actually use mobile money products are: understanding how mobile money works, having a mobile money agent close to residence/place of work, feeling mobile money is safe and when many people start using mobile money, according to the survey.

About 29.8 million adults who own a mobile phone are unbanked, 15 million adults would consider using their mobile phones to send money, 14.1 million adults to receive money and 9.4 million adults to save money, an indication of a huge market waiting to be tapped.

According to the Survey, quick wins for mobile money, and indeed, financial inclusion would be the availability of higher income and socio-economic status, secondary education, high levels of connectivity, savings orientation more long term, use of credible sources of financial information among others.

Emmanuel Okoegwale, Principal Associate MobileMoney Africa, said the event is an opportunity for Nigerian operators and regulators to share experiences and learn from operators and experts from other countries.

Some of the participants said they would like to see more action and positive results, on the part of the operators and regulators, emanate from such conferences.

They urged operators not to lose focus on the aim of mobile money, which is financial inclusion. Operators were urged to spread their tentacles to the towns and villages, where a large portion of the unbanked reside, and reduce wooing people in the city who most likely already have one or multiple bank accounts.

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