Friday, January 17, 2014

Indonesia- what happened to the regulations?

There was a lot of excitement in the Mobile Money industry when Bank Indonesia announced it would allow pilots of Branchless Banking in 2013 for five banks and three telcos.  There was considerably less excitement at the end of November when the pilots ended. 
The most common course of action after a regulatory pilot is either to extend the length of the pilot or issue regulations, but in this case BI declared that the pilot were closed and banks proceeded to close or suspend their agent operations.

Since then, there has been a shift in regulatory authority in Indonesia with the creation of OJK, the Financial Services Authority. They now have micro-prudential authority and thus would be the key regulatory body for Branchless Banking.  However, BI maintains control of the payments system and plans to issue regulations on Digital Financial Services as part of this authority.  The details of this are unclear, but it is expected that they will only allow “Book 4 Banks” (BRI, BNI, Mandiri and BCA) to participate, at least initially. BI has stated that other banks and non-banks may also participate in the future, but this is troubling news for banks such as BTPN, CIMB Niaga and Sinar Haparan Bali who participated in pilots but are now in regulatory limbo as to how to proceed.

These new regulations on Digital Financial Services (layanan keuangan digital or LKD) have not yet been released but are being keenly anticipated by all involved.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Analysing my mobile money predictions for 2013...solid but a few surprises

In January 2013 I wrote a blog with my five predictions for mobile money in 2013. I didn’t quite realize how momentous 2013 would also be for me personally, as I stepped out of the developing markets payments world in July last year to take up a new role transforming a developed markets bank in Asia. As a result, the time commitment of a new role has meant that this has been my first post on Mobile Money Asia for six months so I thought it would be a good opportunity to recap on 2013 and my bold predictions!

My predictions at the start of 2013 were:
  • Pakistan and Bangladesh will become the new stars of mobile money.
  • Agent-initiated over the counter transactions will be recognised as the ‘killer app’ in mobile money.
  • Mobile money interoperability will become a reality in some markets.
  • Google will launch mobile money in more emerging markets.
  • There will be further platform consolidation in mobile money, potentially leaving only three to four big players.
So how close did I get? I think I was pretty spot on with a few of these and a little wide of the mark (or perhaps a little early) in some of the others.

At the start of 2014 Kenya still leads the world in the penetration of mobile money. The most recent statistics indicated that mobile payment volume was close to US$20 billion in 2013, a 24% increase over 2012.  Interestingly a lot of the growth is linked to increased integration to commercial banks, particularly with the introduction of lending products. Progress in Bangladesh and Pakistan is also very exciting however, with multiple banks and operators launching and scaling services. The digital money blog of Charmaine Oak’s ‘Shift Thought’ quoted that 17 banks in Bangladesh were now offering services, with over 7 million accounts, 100,000 plus agents, and payment volume of US$1.03 billion in the first quarter of 2013.  This blog from CGAP echoes those figures, and also contrasts Pakistan’s volume, which is roughly the same.

So on my first prediction that Pakistan and Bangladesh would become the new stars of mobile money, I would give myself a C+. Whilst there are some fantastic developments in both markets, Kenya is still moving ahead in leaps and bounds. Whilst the population in the two South Asian markets should eventually build to bigger volume, M-Pesa is still the poster child of mobile money at the start of 2014.

Whilst missing the mark a little bit on my first prediction, I think I hit A+ for my prediction on OTC transactions being the killer app in mobile money. Despite Pakistan having stellar growth in mobile money volume, 83% of transactions are over the counter and nearly two thirds in Kenya are conducted the same way. Many customers are comfortable with the concept of agents completing transactions for them, and it is recognized that in markets like Pakistan and Bangladesh, shifting customers from OTC to mobile initiated transactions will take time.

Just this week there was also a very interesting article in Bloomberg Business, which outlined, through the lens of Bitcoin and developing markets, how OTC is the primary method for conducting mobile money transactions in markets like Kenya, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Greg Chen of CGAP notes that illiteracy, a lack of technology proficiency and distribution remain the real barriers in branchless banking and moving beyond OTC payments.

My third prediction was that we would see mobile money interoperability become a reality in some markets. Whilst we have not yet seen MasterCard and Visa achieve and enable the dizzy heights they predicted for mobile money interoperability a few years ago, Visa has certainly been putting its money where its mouth is. Visa announced its initiative in Rwanda in 2011 with a goal of providing banks and mobile operators with true mobile money interoperability. In addition to providing the technology to allow this to occur, Visa also developed rules and regulations to allow for disputes between parties and to build a mutually beneficial commercial ecosystem. As of December 2013, Visa now has five banks signed up for its mVisa service, providing the mobile money world with a fascinating live test case on how interoperability can develop.

In 2013 we also saw further developments in mobile money interoperability, with the announcement by Telkomsel, Indosat and XL the three major mobile operators in Indonesia, that they would provide real time money transfer between mobile wallets. With the developments of Visa in the market and a number of other initiatives, I would rate my prediction for interoperability as B+, as we have positive early signs of interconnectivity occurring, but we still don’t have sustainable commercial models of interoperability in mobile money.

My fourth prediction was that the industry would see a lot more from Google in developing markets, particularly continuing the development of their BebaPay prepaid transit card product in Kenya. The development of BebaPay appears to be slow in Kenya, as resistance to the product from bus conductors and drivers as well as technology barriers impact acceptance.  From discussions I had last year with Google insiders, the next markets to be tapped included the Philippines and Indonesia. I had heard that Indonesia was proving to be difficult due to payments regulation so it is not surprising that Google launched in Manila in September 2013. The launch, partnering with major local bank BPI, has focused initially on universities in order for students to have a prepaid card for general use. Merchants are predominantly food and beverage at this stage, although Google have ambitions of moving into transit as they have done in Kenya.

So I am scoring myself a B for the development of Google in emerging markets in 2013. Whilst development hasn’t been as fast as I would have expected, Google are on the move with a prepaid card product for developing market customers in Asia.

My last prediction for 2013 was that we would see further consolidation of platform vendors, leaving only three to four in the market. This has probably been my lowest performing prediction, and in addition I would guess that this year has not been a great year for those selling mobile money platforms. Most clients who already need a platform have one, and those that have already invested are more interested in trying to make money out of the service rather than buying new technology.

To get a sense of how the vendor industry is looking for mobile money currently, I used a highly unscientific method of assessment! I googled each of the major vendors to get a sense of how many press releases they had released recently. The statistics were interesting. Fundamo/Visa had press releases in recent months announcing developments in ATM cards linked to mobile money in Pakistan and a new client in the same market. Mastercard had announced a tie up with eServ Global and BICS to establish a mobile money international remittance hub.  The latest news on new client acquisition for Telepin was January 2013, and for Utiba it was October 2012! So in summary, I would give myself a D for that prediction, with the qualification that it appears that there has been very little vendor success in general in 2013, which may lead to consolidation in 2014 and beyond as smaller companies struggle to survive in a maturing market.

In closing then my consolidated scorecard for 2013 doesn’t look too bad. I would be very interested in views from the industry on what I am right or wrong on?

- Brad Jones

Monday, July 15, 2013

What are the trade-offs necessary for financial inclusion in G2P Payments?

We all know the mantra that financial inclusion will bring benefits to the poor by allowing them more access to savings as a protection against risk events and credit as a way to improve their livelihoods, but what are the practical considerations that are involved if we try to use a G2P (Government-to-Person) payment to increase financial inclusion?
Indonesia is currently facing this issue with its PKH (Program Keluarga Harapan, or Family Hope Program). It currently pays more than one million recipients, mostly through cash-based payments as Post Office outlets, but has migrated many recipients to postal account-based transfers or bank accounts. A detailed report supported by AusAID and published by the National Team for Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (Tim Nasional Percepatan Penaggulangan Kemiskinan or TNP2K) highlights some of the problems that have been experienced along the way and makes some recommendations for improvements to the program. You can download the report here:  
The report looks at the demographics of recipients and finds that they are a heterogeneous group, so there may be no “one size fits all” approach to paying them.  This presents a quandary for the administrating agency, who would prefer a standardized approach in order to deal with the large-scale payments.

PKH Recipients attending a Focus Group Discussion in North Sulawesi.
Credit: Michael Joyce
In analyzing the migration of services to bank accounts, there were a number of logistical issues that caused major headaches to the Ministry, the bank and recipients. For example, the names registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs and printed on the program ID cards didn’t always match the names on the official ID cards of the recipient. A postal account payment was flexible enough to deal with this, but bank processes weren’t and often meant the beneficiary had to apply for new ID cards in order to access their money. 

Despite all this, the majority of beneficiaries are happy with their current payment services. This might seem like a non-statement – people are happy when they receive money, and have never experienced a better alternative. A closer look at the data, though, indicates that some recipients in remote locations spend up to 30% of their received payment on travel costs. Surely agent banking or mobile money can make an improvement here?

Although Indonesia now has a mobile penetration in excess of 100%, it is still a long way off the universal access needed to make payments to the poorest of the poor. According to this report, 75% of households have a phone, but that still leaves 25% who would be unable to access the service (without a tedious process of keeping an active SIM card available).  More importantly, PKH payments are distributed to female household heads, and only 20% of the recipients state that they are the owner or main user of their phone. Making payments to mothers is a crucial feature of Conditional Cash Transfers, and a migration to mobile money might undermine this if the program requirements are not made clear.

The news from this report is not all gloom and doom for mobile money, though. Indonesia is currently testing some pilots for Branchless Banking, and the Guidelines issued by Bank Indonesia make specific reference to G2P programs, for example by using the PKH identity cards as sufficient ID to open an account (despite the lack of a photo on the card), many of the name-matching problems currently experienced will be eradicated. The Government of Indonesia has stated that it would like to expand the PKH program to three million households by 2014. With a potential regular payment stream this large, there are sure to be payment providers who are willing to adapt their services to this market. A high level of  understanding of the customer (both the beneficiaries and the organization making the payments) will be key to success.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mobile Money Maths

Creating a viable mobile money service is fundamentally a question of marketing (driving appropriate use cases tapping into clear customer pain points) and distribution (creating a sufficiently dense, liquid agent network). But success on both fronts requires getting to scale quickly: on the marketing side because payment solutions are only really useful if enough other people and businesses have already joined; and on the distribution side because customers won’t join if there aren’t already many agents, while agents won’t come if there aren’t already many customers. Building a mobile money scheme entails breaking these two powerful vicious circles; no wonder so many are floundering.

Indeed, network effects work against you when you are small, and carry you seemingly effortlessly when you are large. New mobile money providers need to make a dash to that critical mass point where vicious circles turn virtuous. But what defines that point? Because it’s a matter of scale, it can be defined fairly precisely mathematically.

The basic mobile money tracking equation

The basic equation mobile money systems need to track counts the total number of cash transactions occurring through the system:

       [# of clients] x [% active] x [# of e-transactions per client per month]
       x [# of CICOs per e-transaction] =  [# of active agents]
       x [# of CICO transactions per agent per day] x [30 days per month]

This is an identity: it must always hold, because the left-hand side of the equation counts the total number of cash in/out (CICO) transactions that customers demand (responding to marketing levers), and the right-hand side counts the total number of CICO transactions that agents perform (responding to distribution levers).

See for instance how this might fit for M-PESA in Kenya, based on published half year FY13 results. They report 15 million active customers, KES 80bn in monthly e-transactions, KES 69bn and 62b in monthly cash-in and cash-out value, and 45k agents. Assume, since this information is not disclosed, that the average transaction size is USD 30 on both electronic and cash transactions, and that around a quarter of agents don’t do much business at all.

With this information we can estimate that the average number of e-transactions per active customer per month is 2.1 ([KES 80bn total transaction value] / [exchange rate of 84 KES per USD] / [15mn clients] / [USD 30 average transaction size]), and that the number of CICO transactions per e-transaction is 1.6 ([KES 69mn cash-in] + [KES 69mn cash-out] / [KES 80mn e-transactions]). Using the above equation we can then back out the average number of transactions per active agent per day: around 50 (try it).

The conditions for assessing critical mass

So do these numbers constitute critical mass? Let me posit two conditions, again relating to the two key success factors we started with, marketing and distribution:
  • Marketing wow condition: There is a compelling proposition for customers if mobile money delivers at least an order-of-magnitude (i.e. 10x) increase in convenience over alternative payment systems. In the case of Kenya, the largest banks have less than 200 branches at which people can cash in and out – against M-PESA’s 34,000 active agents (remember that was assuming that one quarter of agents are inactive). That’s a staggering two-order of magnitude (almost 200x) improvement in convenience.
  • Distribution wow condition: There is a compelling proposition for agents to strive to maintain adequate liquidity at all times if the M-PESA agency pays for at least a daily salary. In Kenya, a daily salary for a store clerk might be $3 (perhaps less in rural areas), and an agent doing 50 transactions per day at an average commission of 8 cents per transactions will make $4 per day.
M-PESA works and expands because customers and agents alike see value in joining. But of course we already knew that: we just formalized it mathematically.

Let me make two clarifications on these critical mass conditions. On the marketing wow condition, I am basing the customer convenience calculation on the number of cash outlets because that’s the starting and/or ending point of all transactions, at least so long as people are living in a predominantly cash economy. On the distribution wow condition, I am not including the non-monetary benefits for agents (drawing foot traffic into the store) because most stores would see this as up-side rather than in itself justifying the activity. I know many disagree with me on this, but try selling your brand of toothpaste through the store at low/no commission, arguing to the store owner that when people buy toothpaste they also might buy toothbrushes and soap and so it’s really in her interest. There might be something to the argument, especially in rural areas with fewer shops, but that can’t be the essence of the agent business case.

The degrees of freedom for newer schemes

If you are a new scheme, how do you get to the point where you can meet these two conditions for critical mass? You must tread carefully, because a mad dash to sign up many agents to fulfill the marketing wow condition (a common temptation) will dilute the volume of business per agent and get in the way of fulfilling the distribution wow condition. In fact, one of the most remarkable features of the evolution of M-PESA in Kenya is how Safaricom maintained balanced growth in both customer and agent numbers – thereby keeping transaction volume per agent and hence agent remuneration stable.

There is probably relatively little you can do to increase dramatically the number of e-transactions per active client. Mobile money, at least initially, must focus on those transactions were cash presents the biggest pain points: transactions which involve two parties that are apart (transporting cash is costly and slow), involve larger amounts (cash is unsafe), or occur at unattended points of sale (like parking meters, where it’s costly if not impossible to offer change). But these transactions will be few in the daily lives of most poor people in developing countries, so don’t count on the number of e-transactions per active client per month being larger than say 1-3, at least initially. You can prime e-transaction volumes with things like airtime top-ups, but remember that for this type of transaction the marketing wow condition is not likely to be met (there are likely to be many more prepaid airtime outlets than mobile money outlets) so it will only grow rapidly if you provide enough discounts for topping up from the mobile phone.

And finally keep in mind that some of the services that may trigger additional mobile payment uses –such as encouraging bulk payments, bill payments, merchant payments or airtime top-ups— entail a cash transaction on only one side, and hence will not contribute as much to the agent transaction volumes and business case (i.e. they have a coefficient of [# of CICOs per e-transaction] of less than one).

So there is no obvious way of growing your way fast into critical mass. But what did you expect. Mathematics provides clarity about the dynamics of the business, but not a recipe on how to succeed.

                                                                                          - Ignacio Mas

Ignacio is an independent consultant on mobile money

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ten Practical Ways to Enhance the Mobile Money Offer

Here is a collection of concrete ideas I’ve put forth in the past to make mobile money more useful for customers. Sadly, I have yet to see any taken up, even as a pilot. Since this is a virgin blog for me, I thought I’d recycle these ideas here.

1. Allow money transfers over time to oneself

Don’t just help people move money once they have it: help them put together the money they need to make a payment. Invite customers who receive e-float to directly assign this money to some purchase(s) or payment(s) they need to make in the future, thereby preventing the money from being withdrawn today. Mobile money has broken the distance barrier in payments, and it should be extended to help people manage payments across time as well. That’s what money management is all about. This can be done simply by adding one optional question on the standard send money menu (transaction value date), and letting people send money to themselves: Me2Me. (Watch short video on the full idea here).

2. Receipts website

Customers want to be able to show a printed receipt if there are any questions around a bill paid or a business transaction settled with mobile money. This can easily be provided through a dedicated website service: enter your phone number and the unique transaction ID from the transaction confirmation SMS, and the website generates a printable bill for you. The possibility of getting a receipt at a cybercafe will offer peace of mind for business uses of mobile money.

3. Business account numbers with automatic error detection

A common form of fraud is for people to buy something with mobile money, and immediately reneging on the transaction by claiming that the money was sent in error to the wrong number. This can be eliminated by making all transactions irreversible, but that seems harsh because people do make errors from time to time. A better solution is to let business users of mobile money get a business account number distinct from their mobile phone number, which would incorporate a single check-sum digit. (Checksum digit is the result of a fixed mathematical operation on the rest of the digits in the account number, such that if a digit is mis-typed the new checksum digit does not match the one appended to the account number.) This allows automatic detection of erroneous account numbers.

4. Optional description field on all money transfers

Another common complaint of business users of mobile money is that they cannot identify who they got the money from (e.g. if the sender has used a relative’s phone instead of their usual one) or which order or invoice it is meant for (if it’s a repeat customer). This can be addressed easily by providing an optional reference field on all money transfers, so that the sender/buyer can enter any appropriate information agreed to with the seller to identify the payment.

5. Lending through peer vouching

Microcredit has shown us that lenders don’t need to know much about their borrowers as long as the borrowers know a lot about each other, and there is an incentive mechanism for people to screen and monitor each other. Mobile money customers who want credit could get other customers to vouch for them, with the weight attached by the lender to each person being based on their vouching track-record. Given some positive incentives for good vouchers and enough time for the system to learn, certain customers would naturally self-select themselves as de-facto loan agents in their town.

6. Community-level incentives to promote savings

Peer pressure has been a core tool to instill borrower discipline, but has seldom been used to promote savings discipline. One idea might be for a mobile money provider that is expanding into a new village to agree on a community-level reward once total e-money balances reach a certain level. The reward would be agreed to with the town elders (e.g. paint for the school), who could then be expected to play a role in promoting savings and the mobile money system behind it around town. Total community savings could be displayed on a thermometer at prominent place, for all to see, prompting people to want to save so as not to fall behind everyone else.

7. Simplified phone menu structure

Mobile money menus are getting long, as mobile money providers seek to promote more diverse reasons for doing essentially the same thing: sending money to someone else (to another mobile phone, to pay a bill, to buy airtime, to buy physical goods at a store, to get cash, to park money in a bank account, etc.) For basic users, this menu clutter may be causing substantial confusion and hindering adoption of new uses which reside in as yet unexplored parts of the menu. It may be better to consolidate all these uses into one menu item –send money—and let the system detect which application the customer wants to do based on what destination number he/she types in (a phone number, a biller code, an agent number, etc.) In this way the provider can still market many and diverse use cases, but need only educate customers on one standard send money process.

8. Depositing money without requiring IDs

Once you are registered as a mobile money customer, the phone and PIN should be the only things you need to do any transaction. Except that you are usually asked to show an ID to make a deposit: the regulator wants to be able to trace who the money came from, and the mobile money provider wants to ensure that you are depositing it into your own account and not bypassing P2P charges by depositing it into someone else’s. A solution to all this is to make customers request a deposit from their mobile phone at the agent and authenticate with their PIN – essentially turning the deposit into a pull transaction.

9. Withdraw through a friend

One common reason why people share PINs is so that you can ask a friend going into town to pick up some cash from your account on your behalf. It’s an entirely legitimate use case, an especially common one in the early phases of a mobile money deployment when agents are thin on the ground. But PIN sharing of course compromises your entire account. Instead of badgering customers for it, why not design an appropriate solution for it: create a withdrawal request against a one-time password which you can then share with your friend. Your friend can run away with the requested withdrawn amount, but no more. This would work much like when one sends money to an unregistered customer.

10. Focus on the basics

OK, this last one may sound like a cop out, but we need to recognize that features alone cannot drive demand. In the end, there are some basics that need to be gotten right if anything else is to work: marketing concrete use cases rather than general capabilities; driving a consistent customer experience at the agent; not skimping on agent commissions; maintaining system uptime; not growing agent numbers wildly ahead of transaction numbers, because that will kill the business case for most agents.  And, despite all I’ve said above, guard against productitis: product proliferation that aims to satisfy ever-finer needs of excessively narrow customer segments.

- Ignacio Mas

Ignacio is an independent consultant on mobile money.