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this money to some purchase(s) or payment(s) they need to make in the future, thereby preventing the money from being withdrawn today.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. 

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