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Mobile Money for the Unbanked

By Philip Levin

Airtel Uganda Targets Forgotten PINs

Airtel Uganda Targets Forgotten PINs

Anyone who has ever forgotten a website password knows that reset procedures can be frustrating and may become an impediment to ever using the service again. Mobile money PINs are no different. But for many of the previously unbanked users, mobile money is their first password (PIN) secured account of any kind. PINs are not yet a daily habit for these users.

A forgotten PIN can become a premature dead-end in a customer journey into regular mobile money usage, especially for those who have recently registered.  This is especially true if customers are not aware of PIN reset procedures or if those procedures are too onerous [1].

How big of a barrier are forgotten PINs to mobile money adoption? Airtel Money’s experience in Uganda gives some indication. Airtel’s call center is now performing 600 PIN resets per day, representing the greatest volume of all requests – mobile money or GSM.

While there might be a temptation to see PIN resets as a nuisance and resource drain, Airtel sees it as a vital component of customer education. They have accepted the fact that customers will need to be trained (and retrained) on PIN usage and instead see PIN resets as an opportunity to reengage inactive subscribers. Airtel’s clever approach to PIN resets includes the following:

  • Inactive customers are getting SMS blasts providing instructions and reminders to change their pins if they have forgotten
  • Dedicated PIN specialists in the Airtel call center are processing forgotten PIN requests quickly
  • Users with dormant balances in their accounts are being sent SMS alerting them to the balances, along with accompanying PIN reset instructions (in case that is the reason for the dormant balance)
  • Customers who have never made a transaction are automatically having their PIN reset to a default with instructions for  setting a new one
  • In addition, Airtel is considering giving inactive customers  a small cash bonus when they perform a PIN reset ; this promotion is targeted at customers who have registered but never transacted

Mobile money operators are realizing that PIN training (and re-training through PIN resets) is a vital component of customer education and an unavoidable area of significant expenditure. Extra effort into PIN education at the point of registration may save resources down the line. Training agents and field registration staff to deliver effective customer education around PINs (and PIN security [2]) will pay off in the form of increased activity and reduced PIN resets later. However for customers who require multiple rounds of PIN education, or those who do their first transaction long after registering, operators do have a number of tools at their disposal for subsequent education.



[1] It should be noted that there is a balance to be struck between the ease of a PIN reset process and preventing fraud associated with PIN resets. Operators should take care to ensure that streamlining these processes does not expose them and their customers to PIN-related fraud.

[2] Operators should combine PIN education with the importance of not sharing their PINs with others.

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