Earlier this week I spoke with Bruno Akpaka from MTN Mobile Money in Ghana. MTN have rapidly grown the network of MTN Mobile Money merchants using a unique approach that is closely linked to their partnership with 9 banks in Ghana. Similarly exciting is the process for opening new customer accounts, which involves capturing the customer’s ID with a mobile phone – this provides flexibility and an opportunity to scale the points of registration over time.
Share your thoughts below.
Paul Leishman: Can you provide a high level overview of MTN Mobile Money in Ghana?
Bruno Akpaka: MTN launched the MTN Mobile Money service in Ghana at the end of July and already have over 20,000 customers to date and around 1,200 Mobile Money Authorized Merchants across the country. As we had expected, we do face some challenges in introducing a new service like this in an area where the informal sector is so prevalent. The main challenge being that it is not the normal practice of Ghanaians to carry identification with them. This is a result of Ghanaians living and working in a safe environment where it is not required to show an official ID document at every street corner – people instead might have things like a work ID, NHIS (National Health Insurance Scheme) document, voter ID, etc. Even so, in general they don’t carry it around. This results in registration having to be planned because a copy of the ID must be taken to register.
Paul: In terms of marketing activities, which types of things have you found to be most successful?
Bruno: We drive communication through below the line advertising for the most part however we do some above the line advertisements to create awareness, and after only two months the level of awareness has probably exceeded our expectations. We believe our tag for Mobile Money is most appropriate- and that is ‘Minsa Aka Minsa Aka’, which means ‘I’ve got in it’. A certain number of my colleagues have shared that wherever they are, whenever they give good news out everyone shouts ‘Minsa Aka’. So we think we have reached our goal in terms of creating awareness.
Paul: How confident are you that Mobile Money will take off in Ghana as it has in Kenya?
Bruno: There is definitely a lot of interest in Mobile Money – but we still need to do a lot of education; this includes the customer, as well as the banks and the merchants. Financial services inclusion is still new in that segment of the market and we feel the growth will be exponential as consumers become more familiar with how the service works and the benefits thereof. When we hear about the success in Kenya, it did not come overnight or in just 2 months! So we know education is a critical first step.
Each country is unique with its own set of cultures, values and practices which will affect the popularity of the service. As an example, the informal business sector in Ghana is mainly unbanked – and in fact that segment is afraid of the word bank. ‘Bank’ to them, means ‘people in dark suits, black ties, very serious and a lot of fees.’ On the other hand they have been early adopters of mobiles because they use them to do business. They see the mobile as a tool to make profits.
Paul: Where can customers register for MTN Mobile Money?
Bruno: They can go to our MTN service centres or any branch of our 9 bank* partners, and some other selected registration points (which are Mobile Money Authorized Merchants that have the facilities to register customers in real time).
Paul: And how does a registration take place?
Bruno: It either takes place using the merchant’s phone (a specific type of handset is required by the merchant) or the internet. Using the phone method, registration merchants simply take a picture of the customer as well as their ID card and then send both by MMS to our servers for registration.
Paul: Given that the only merchant requirement to register a new customer is a specific type of handset, it seems like you could put a big effort into customer registration, correct?
Bruno: That’s right, but we are still growing very cautiously so as to ensure that we can focus on ensuring the customers we do register are fully comfortable with the process and service. Let us remember that this is a financial services product. When it comes to finance, customers are more conservative than when it comes to airtime. So yes, for now we’re being cautious in registering too many customers too early. We want to lead with below the line advertising to make people aware that we will be coming to the community to register customers. By then, they should be more comfortable with the process/service.
Paul: What about using the service? What are the responsibilities of merchants?
Bruno: Customers need to show a valid photo ID to perform any transaction at the Merchant point. Details of the ID and transaction are captured by the Merchant’s Account handler on the Merchant Transaction sheet and signed by the customer to acknowledge the transaction.
All Merchants are approved by partner banks after completing KYC requirements. Their details are then captured on the Mobile Money platform and a wallet created for their transactions. This is followed by training, loading of e-cash, branding and commencement of business. Merchants earn cash commissions on all transactions.
Paul: You have partnered with 9 banks in Ghana. What’s the rationale behind this decision?
Bruno: First of all, it was a requirement from the Bank of Ghana to have a minimum of 3 banks as partners. In fact, the Bank of Ghana guidelines are very clear – merchants must be backed by a bank and thus more banks should also provide us with more merchants. Second, banks were very enthusiastic about the value proposition as they see it as a great opportunity to reach the unbanked population – which is something they haven’t been able to do for a while. Also they want to benefit from the float that backs each Mobile Money user’s wallet. And thirdly, they want to leverage on the MTN network. This means that even though merchants are selling an MTN Mobile Money service, it is the bank that is vetting the merchant and thus having a conversation with prospective new customers.
Paul: So you have 1,200 merchants, each of whom has a bank account with one of your 9 bank partners. How do you decide which of the 9 partners will bank a specific merchant?
Bruno: It really isn’t our call. Rather, we leave it to the banks to express interest in a specific region, and in a specific district. So if I look at a particular region and Bank A says that they have a strategy to be very aggressive there because of XYZ reason, then that bank will be tasked with banking the merchants in that area and signing them up as MTN Mobile Money merchants. In some other regions, banks may compete with one another and no one bank will take the single lead.
There is a big incentive for the banks to sign on Merchants who sell Mobile Money – the number of accounts opened will be reported in their Annual Reports, they get access to a wider distribution network and finally these same Merchants can be used to open a savings account with the bank, dispatch ATM cards, etc. They incentivize Merchants in this regard. Thus both the merchant and the bank benefits from participating in Mobile Money.
Paul: How has your experience been working with the Bank of Ghana?
Bruno: The Bank of Ghana has been most co-operative and supportive of MTN’s Mobile Money Initiative.
Paul: Thanks, Bruno.
*Partner banks – CAL Bank; Fidelity Bank; Ecobank; Guarantee Trust Bank; Intercontinental Bank; Merchant Bank; Stanbic; United Bank for Africa; Zenith Bank