Sunday, May 1, 2016

What have I learnt from building two mobile money businesses?

I have had the privilege in my career to be accountable to build two mobile money businesses in South East Asia. The first, Wing Cambodia is now doing billions of dollars worth of payments on a monthly basis, and is globally seen as a success story. The second, Wave Money in Myanmar is shortly to commercially launch, however we are very excited about its prospects. I recently had the opportunity to meet some of my old team members in Phnom Penh, and I was reflecting on what I have learnt from these two similar, but also very different experiences. I hope it is interesting for those who follow the mobile money field.

Hire the best people. In both of these experiences we hired the very best local and international talent we could find. In Cambodia, we had a policy of hiring young and smart as we were building a business where distinctive skills were difficult to come by. This strategy proved to be successful, as the majority of our local managers in Cambodia from 2008 have now gone on to be the nucleus of an industry talent pool that has extended into microfinance, insurance and other financial services. In Wave Money, we have similarly hired the best in Myanmar and beyond. The team we have created is motivated, passionate and extremely diverse. With 11 nationalities and 45% of our employees who are female, we have formed a diverse team that is persistent and fanatical about making Wave Money a local and international success story.

Create a vision that becomes a cause. When we started Wing in Cambodia, we had the simple vision of ‘Making Money Fair’. We knew that for the majority of Cambodians, money was not fair. It was not easy or cheap to send money to loved ones, it was not safe to store money in group accommodation at factory sites, and it was not secure to carry large amounts of money around. We hired people who were committed to this vision and who worked hard to make it a reality. Those who were more self-centered or had doubts fell by the wayside as the true believers fought for the cause. I feel the same way about my current team in Myanmar. Our team understands the difficulty that comes from being excluded from the formal financial sector and they are passionate about making a positive change for their country. By the way, if you want to join our great team, please take a look at our open vacancies!

Distribution matters over all. Wing Cambodia was originally owned by a bank, and the strategy for distribution was built with a similar mindset to how a bank rolls out a point of sale network. The original strategy of individually signing up agents and then helping to manage their liquidity was fundamentally flawed. After about six months the strategy was scrapped, and a master agent model was established in its place. By contrast, Wave Money leverages the distribution strength of one of our owners, Telenor, which allows us to leverage the extensive network that they have built in Myanmar. We are building distribution expertise into our corporate DNA and my leadership team and myself spend as much time as we possibly can in the field meeting our partners. It is only through this hands-on approach that we can effectively build and maintain a network that will be successful.

Thinking Agile. When we first started Wing in late 2007 the mobile money industry was in its infancy. A learning we had taken from the banking industry was the importance of ‘test and learn’. This philosophy allowed the credit card industry to successfully test new products in smaller groups, and then adopt the insights to successfully scale products. In using the test and learn principle we tested marketing events and products with smaller groups of customers, and then created concepts such as a ‘Customer Board’ to enable us to truly understand whether we were addressing her needs.  In Myanmar we have taken these principles further and have adopted a number of agile philosophies where feedback is built into multiple daily interactions in the team. Visual management is a core part of the way we work and management and staff regularly interact to discuss what is working and what is not. Transparency of our successes and our failures is building a culture of trust and ‘no surprises’.

The Importance of Fun! I was prompted to write the blog after a dinner with some old Wing colleagues in Phnom Penh over the weekend. The stories and experience that we had building Wing during my time from 2007-2010 were recalled in the laughter and enjoyment in each other’s company. This experience has been replicated around the world when I have been lucky to spend time with other colleagues who have moved onto bigger and better opportunities in places as diverse as Jakarta, New York and Melbourne. Whilst it was tough building a new business those shared experiences created a bond between team members that we still have today. I hope we are creating the same level of enjoyment with my current team in Myanmar, and that in years to come we will all remember the formative years of building out another great business in South East Asia.

When I look back at my career, having had the opportunity to build two businesses that will make a positive difference to the lives of people in Cambodia and Myanmar are significant highlights. Whilst very different countries, I believe that many of the philosophies for success remain the same. Hire people who believe in the same cause that you do. Get distribution right and spend time with your partners. Create a culture that encourages trialing new ideas and failure and lastly, make sure people have fun while they are doing it!

-       Brad Jones

Brad Jones (@bradjoz) is the Chief Executive Officer of Wave Money, a joint venture for mobile financial services in Myanmar owned by Telenor and Yoma Bank. He was previously Managing Director of Wing Cambodia from 2007 to 2010, and has also worked for Visa and the World Bank Group.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why Mobile Financial Services Matter for Myanmar


I have been living in Myanmar now for the best part of nine months in my role as Chief Executive Officer of Digital Money Myanmar. Digital Money Myanmar is a joint venture that has been established by Telenor, one of the world’s largest mobile operators with 189 million mobile subscribers, and Yoma Bank, a financial institution that has been in operation in Myanmar for over twenty years. We believe that the partnership between these two organizations provides the right model for Myanmar, with the joint venture leveraging the distribution of Telenor, and the local expertise and cash management capabilities of Yoma Bank.

The government of Myanmar has an ambitious target for financial inclusion, with a goal of reaching 40% of people with financial services by 2020, and having 15% using more than one financial services product.  Coming off a very low base of financial inclusion today, these goals will require
financial service providers to greatly expand their reach in Myanmar. Technology, and particularly mobile telephony coupled with agent cash in and cash out services, will provide a significant accelerator to this development.

Mobile operators, partnering with banks, are best placed to expand the reach of financial services in Myanmar to those that are unbanked today, leveraging the significant distribution networks that are already in place. Banks and microfinance institutions must also play a critical role, and through partnership with businesses like Digital Money Myanmar they can develop innovative credit and savings products that will reduce transaction costs, and enable the financially excluded access to a broader range of products. Banks in markets such as Kenya are now seeing significant deposit mobilization through partnership, not competition with mobile operators. Partnership is the future of mobile money in Myanmar.

Once these mobile money networks are in place, there will be substantial benefits to the people and government of Myanmar, including:
  • The ability to pay wages, pensions and conditional cash transfers efficiently and transparently. Research in other markets indicates that when electronic channels are used for these payments there are considerable improvements in transparency and a reduction in leakage, with the potential for 100% of the benefit reaching the recipient every time.
  • Financial inclusion helps individuals impacted by poverty manage the challenge of irregular income and occasional large bills. It can also help to pull them out of poverty through improved education and health care.
  • The ability for the Myanmar diaspora in neighboring countries to easily transfer funds to family through mobile based international remittance will formalize the way these funds enter the country, and lower the cost of transfer.
  • For micro and small business, financial inclusion can provide capital for establishing and expanding trade. Removing traditional barriers through leveraging technology can improve access to credit, boosting economic growth.
  • Financial inclusion draws more businesses into the formal sector, broadening the tax base for government which can increase funding for improvements to social services.
Research has estimated that financial inclusion driven by mobile financial services in developing markets may increase gross domestic product by up to five percent within five to seven years. This GDP growth is stimulated by increased employment as a result of the development of mobile financial services, improved access to credit prompting the development of new business, and the benefits of formal remittances and increased savings.

As Myanmar continues its transition, it is critical that financial inclusion remains a priority and that industry wide collaboration occurs to develop business models that will be sustainable and beneficial to the financially excluded. The government is playing an important role in ensuring that the right regulatory model is put in place to allow for mobile operators and subsidiaries to provide these services. Myanmar was recently reported to be the third fastest growing mobile market in the world, after India and China. There is a similar opportunity for Myanmar to be celebrated as a global leader in the acceleration of financial inclusion, and we are excited about the opportunity to contribute to that vision.

-        Brad Jones

Brad Jones is the CEO of Digital Money Myanmar. He has previously worked at Visa on their emerging markets mobile strategy in Asia Pacific and was the founding Managing Director of WING Cambodia, the first bank-led mobile money operation in South East Asia. Follow Brad on Twitter @bradjoz.