Recently we reached out to Ben Lyon, Director at Kopo Kopo, a successful tech firm that offers merchant solutions for mobile payments, to give NGOs some advice on integrating mobile money into their day-to-day operations. He graciously accepted and provided the following blog, which highlights five general questions and a few specific examples from Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Malawi to help you start thinking about mobile money in those markets and elsewhere:
- Where are my payment pain points?
- Who do I pay, how often and how much?
- How do I technically integrate with mobile money?
- How do I provide a unified experience in a fragmented market?
- How do I manage float across one or multiple mobile money accounts?
Although these questions are far from exhaustive, they should help you start prioritizing which mobile money services to use and how to use them. In case you’d like to discuss any of the below, please feel free to respond in the comments section or contact Ben Lyon directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Where are my payment pain points?
First, let’s think about where you make and receive regular payments. Where are you most vulnerable to counterfeit, inefficiency, high transportation costs, reconciliation errors and/or leakage?
Let’s take Zimbabwe. Due to a general lack of change and the circulation of multiple currencies, paying for everyday items can be frustrating. How do you reconcile a petty cash expense when you’re handed candy instead of change? In this example, you may want to use a service like Popote Payments to disburse and manage petty cash via mobile money. If you integrate your petty cash management system with a payment processor like Yo!Time or PesaPal, you should be able to make and receive payments across multiple payment networks. If you’d prefer to engage mobile money providers directly, start with EcoCash since it has the most market traction.
Instead of tackling everything at once, start by isolating and prioritizing your most frequent pain points.
2. Who do I pay, how often and how much?
Are you paying people in urban, peri-urban, or remote areas? What payment types do they have ready access to? Do fees or transaction limits constrain your ability to pay via certain channels?
Who you pay should have a strong influence on how you pay them. Make sure to understand where your recipients live and what services they have access to. In Tanzania, for instance, you may want to consult FSDT’s Financial Access Map to see which services are the most accessible. If you’re not sure which channel your recipients prefer, you may want to work through an aggregator like ButtonPay, E-Fulusi, Maxcom, PesaPal, or Selcom to reach them via multiple channels (see this link for a webinar on what an aggregator is). If you would rather limit your channels, prioritize Vodacom M-Pesa, Tigo Pesa, Airtel Money, and then Zantel Ezy Pesa, in that order, to follow market adoption.
Make sure to consider fees and transaction limits when selecting a payment channel. In many cases, mobile money providers offer banded tariffs based on flat fees, which can make micro-payments prohibitively expensive. At the other end of the spectrum, large value payments can exceed mobile money transaction limits, which means you may need to use traditional money transfer organizations or banks.
3. How do I technically integrate with mobile money?
If you have complex back-office processes, you’ll likely want to automate mobile money collection and disbursement processes for accountability and efficiency. This will require either working through an established third party aggregator with a unified integration layer or engaging mobile money providers directly. Either way, it’s important to note that mobile money is still a nascent industry and that integration protocols have yet to be standardized. That said, it may make more sense for you to engage an established third party at a higher cost than attempt to manage integration(s) yourself.
Let’s take the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you’re based in Kinshasa and need to make and receive payments nationally, you’ll likely need to engage multiple mobile money providers such as Airtel Money, Tigo Cash and Vodacom M-Pesa. In each case, you would need to do at least the following to automate collections and disbursements:
- Apply and receive credentials for a Collection Account and, if you need to make outgoing payments, a Bulk Payments account.
- Establish a secure connection with the mobile money provider’s server, which is usually done via Virtual Private Network (VPN) or, less commonly, by whitelisting your server’s IP address.
- Configure your server to parse transaction posts from the mobile money provider’s server or, if they are unable to post transactions, periodically poll transactions via Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP). Where neither option exists, you may need to create ‘robots’ or web crawlers to parse the HTML of the account’s user interfaces.
- Set up and gain access to testing environments.
- Coordinate tests with the mobile money provider’s information technology department or, more commonly, third party mobile money platform vendor.
- Move from a test environment to a production environment.
- Handle errors and respond to downtime on an ongoing basis.
All told, the above could easily take 3-6 months for every mobile money channel you add, which requires a significant investment of time and energy.
Alternatively, it may make sense for you to simply partner with a third party such as an aggregator or bank to make and receive payments on your behalf. Although you’ll likely pay more per transaction for this option since you’re now paying the mobile money provider’s fees plus the third party’s fees, you’ll likely pay less upfront as well as meaningfully improve your speed to market.
As a third option, you can license an existing technology stack to handle the above without giving up the mobile money provider relationship or investing in your own development cycles. This is one of the services Kopo Kopo provides.
4. How do I provide a unified experience in a fragmented market?
Unless you’re operating in one of the few markets where there is a dominant mobile money provider (i.e. Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe), you’ll likely need to work with multiple money systems at the same time. In Tanzania, for instance, the market is relatively fragmented between four different providers. There, it would likely make sense to work through one of the aggregators mentioned above as doing so gives you a single point of contact and, in most cases, a unified tariff.
It’s important to note that the consumer experience, ease of access and tariff is almost certain to change from one network to another. A customer trying to pay you from Zanzibar, for instance, might find it easier to use Zantel Ezy Pesa whereas a customer in Dar es Salaam might prefer Vodacom M-Pesa. Similarly, each customer will go through different menu processes and likely pay different fees to send the same amount. Because of these differences, your marketing and training materials will need to specifically address the needs and concerns of each customer by channel.
5. How do I manage float across one or multiple mobile money accounts?
Behind all of the above is a complex set of float reconciliation and management procedures, especially for organizations operating multiple accounts in fragmented markets. For example, Collection and Bulk Payment accounts tend to be partitioned such that you have to request a transfer from one to the other. If you need to process payroll or pay casual laborers via mobile money in Malawi, for instance, you’ll need to make sure that your Bulk Payments accounts, Airtel Money and TNM Mpamba, have sufficient funds and, if not, either transfer funds from your Collection accounts or via bank transfer. Given that the latter take time, it’s important to monitor these accounts regularly so as to not delay payments.
In some ways, you might want to act like a depository institution by establishing and maintaining reserve ratios proportionate to the liabilities of each channel.
Again, mobile money is still extremely nascent and may not be the most viable option in most markets, yet things are changing very rapidly. Equipping yourself with key questions that enable you to conduct due diligence on your particular market will mitigate the risk of prematurely adopting mobile money. Resources like NetHope and USAID's Toolkit on the journey from cash to electronic payments help to clarify the right questions to ask when considering a transition to mobile money.
The author, Ben Lyon, is one of the co-founders and Directors of Kopo Kopo, which offers software tools to help banks, mobile network operators, 3rd parties and small and medium enterprises leverage mobile payments to digitize their businesses. Kopo Kopo serves roughly 15,000 SMEs across East Africa. To learn more, please visit www.kopokopo.com.