Could new regulatory guidelines in Bangladesh turn MFS into “nobody’s baby”?

With the recent release of new draft guidelines for mobile financial services (MFS) in Bangladesh, I caught up with payments expert Raihan to get his views on the state of play of the market, possible outcomes from the guidelines and how we may see Bangladesh consumer financial needs better addressed over the next 5 years.

bangladeshimage

Raihan, to set the scene could you please share a bit about your role in the Bangladesh payments scene?

When I joined Grameenphone in 2006 on completing my studies in the US, these were early days for mCommerce in Bangladesh. We designed it all from scratch - processes for financial operations, reconciliation, the channel commission, payments, fund management and more. Seeing our BillPay service so popular in Bangladesh made it all worthwhile. I then moved to airtel where even in a bank led model we have built an award-winning mCommerce portfolio with specialized products such as micro credit disbursement together DBBL, our banking partner and 13 MFS partners including bKash.

What is the current state of play of the Bangladesh MFS market?

Bangladesh MFS market is now 5 years old. The top 2 operators bKash and DBBL together accounts for an estimated 74% of the market, with bKash leading since launch in 2011. A recent cGAP study estimates that 30% of Bangladeshi adults have used bKash while 4% have used the DBBL service. bKash users are more likely to be active, with 81% account holders active, compared with 67% for DBBL users. DBBL users are more likely to be registered users with 44% registered as compared to 23% for bKash.

As of June 2016, there are 36.2 million mobile banking registered accounts but only 13.3 million are active users. However, this data does not represent the number of unique users of MFS.

What’s behind this success of bKash?

I think this is due to the awareness that bKash was able to create ever since their launch and also their extensive retail reach. In terms of transactions, bKash still leads with over 80% market share although their annual growth in revenue has come down to 50% in 2015 from 81% in 2014.

What challenges do you face regarding user identification, AML and KYC?

OTC (Over-the-counter) continues to be hugely popular in Bangladesh, with 2.5 times more users than registered mobile wallet users. Retailers often transact on behalf of customers and this could create AML/KYC issues.

In 2016 we have started National ID verification process for mobile subscribers as Instructed by our regulators. Fortunately, as 90% or more of the active users of Telecom Services registered their SIMs, this may not impact the revenue and transaction volume of MFS.

Regarding usage pattern, I notice that unregistered users are more likely to use basic money transfer services while registered users also use advanced services including bill payment and mobile top-up. Today an estimated 8% to 15% of mobile top-up is done through MFS.

How is sticking with OTC a drawback to poorer users who only need basic services?

Today almost everyone has access to a mobile phone. Hence a poor person living in the remotest corner of the country can get registered through MFS and enjoy proper financial inclusion with the kind of services that are normally only available over a banking counter. Transacting through someone else’s wallet rather than your own is almost like a “Digital Hundi” or Sending money through the courier service which was actually one of the ways to send money in Bangladesh prior to the launch of MFS.

What was the motivation for new regulatory guidelines for MFS in Bangladesh?

MFS has always been a key focus for the regulators, specially Bangladesh Bank. Despite the rapid development of MFS and the huge potential to grow and reach the remotest corners of Bangladesh to boost financial inclusion, complete financial inclusion via mobile banking has yet to reach its full potential. OTC or unregistered use of MFS is one of the biggest drawbacks of the service.

This is why the Bangladesh Bank has been working towards a revised guideline that can encourage appropriate business models that help the market reach its potential and create a win-win situation for all the entities in terms of equity shareholding. I believe that with a few minor changes, this new guideline could help boost MFS growth and ensure financial inclusion in Bangladesh

So what are the new guidelines, and do they help address the issues?

Here I’d like to discuss two of the major clauses included in the new Draft Guideline:

 

Clause 4.1

BB shall permit delivery of the following broad categories of financial services by scheduled commercial bank-led Mobile phone based Financial Service (MFS) platforms in Bangladesh.

Clause-5.2

The scheduled commercial bank-led MFS platforms may have both banks and non-bank entities including Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) as equity holders, subject to banks holding majority beneficial ownership in total equity, no bank or non-bank entity holding more than fifteen percent beneficial ownership in equity, and Beneficial ownership of MNOs in an MFS platform not exceeding thirty percent of its total equity.

 

In Clause 4.1 we see that it remains a bank-led model as specified by the previous guidelines published in 2011. However, Clause 5.2 requires that no bank or non-bank entity hold equity share more than 15% individually. Banks must have majority ownership and Telcos may not collectively hold more than 30%. This means MFS projects will become nobody’s baby! This potentially creates a huge issue in regards to ownership.

What is the alternative you recommend?

In my view, we should first study what’s happening worldwide and learn from that. We should deploy a model which will be beneficial for the people of the country and will be owned by both Telecom and Banks. Telcos are good at things like branding, marketing campaigns, product management, agent management. Banks are expected to safeguard funds. Hence a model in which each of these players can execute to the best of their capability will be a successful one. My proposal would be that there should not be any restriction on the ownership of MNOs or any other equity holders. We should follow the good examples available across the globe.

Apart from equity participation, in what other ways are Telcos held back due to the guidelines?

There are several other areas where Telcos are not allowed to participate in the current MFS services. For example, Telcos are not allowed to promote the product, brand the product or launch different campaigns to promote MFS services. Telcos are only allowed to offer Telecom Data or talk time) for MFS promotions.

How do you see the market developing as we move towards 2020?

In the next 5 years, I expect the MFS market to be more mature and more compliant. SIM verification and re-registration will be imposed on MFS as well which will eventually limit the OTC usage and encourage use of mobile wallets. More advanced services will be launched so that people start to use MFS for services other than the basic money transfer.

Government already disburses payments (G2P) through MFS. In 5 years from now, I expect P2G to increase in a big way, so that payments including fees and taxes reach the government through MFS. Mobile Top Up usage will increase even more and may reach approximately 50% of total Telecom Top Up value.

MFS providers will further pursue Omni channel strategies, with some already providing the service through apps and the web. MFS services will be offered through other mediums such as NFC and it will not be only limited to USSD, apps or web and launch of 4G services will further boost usage.

Mobile Number Portability will be introduced in the country and, the need of having more than one MFS account with different Telecom operators will gradually decrease.

As stated by Bangladesh Bank, over the last couple of years, we have found that people at the “bottom of the pyramid” have been able to greatly increase their economic activities and that volume is increasing significantly each day. This contribution directly impacts the transactions volume in mobile banking.

Overall I look forward to MFS playing a major role in the growth of GDP of our country.

 raihan

 

Ruhullah Raihan Alhusain is a payments professional with over 12 years of work experience in Mobile Banking Field. He graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with Honors as Bachelor in Business Administration and led the Grameenphone mCommerce Operation Finance team before moving to airtel where he is Head of mCommerce Operations

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Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid–Add your voice

In this interview Carol Realini, co-author of 'Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ tells how they use an innovative crowd-sourced solution to provide a deeper understanding of innovative financial services that are emerging to address the needs of unbanked and under-banked people around the world.

Q: Carol, could you let us know a bit about your new book – what’s it about?

fipKarl and I are fortunate to have been involved in financial inclusion projects around the world. We wanted to share how we see things changing, new models emerging and most importantly how this is happening differently in different places.

We thought it important that we provide a global view rather than focusing one market or one aspect – such as just Square or just Mobile POS, or just the USA.

We’re show-casing the best examples of tech-enabled financial inclusion from around the world.

Q: I’m interested in the way you are sourcing material – in a manner that is still pretty unique

Yes, although we have ourselves been in many of the countries where the new services are rapidly growing, we did not want to be limited in our thinking. By throwing the book open to contributions from around the world we expect to cover more ground and discover some of the breaking stories that will help create a good understanding of the state of play.

Q: Carol, how do you and Karl expect to make a difference with this book?

We believe the next 5 years will be a period of unprecedented change. Another 3 billion or more people will have access to the internet via mobile. Financial services will reach 1-2 billion more people in a similar timeframe. We want this book to help inspire people to understand more. We want the book to help people share about what they’ve achieved so we jointly celebrate their success and contemplate potential pitfalls together.

Q: How do people contribute to this initiative?

We have a campaign on for nominations for Global Financial Inclusion Pioneers. We would love to have more Europe and Africa nominations – we have extended the deadline to Dec 31, 2013. Full details are available at the Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid website. We’d like people to visit and nominate as well as submit their stories. This will help us showcase the best examples from across the world.

 

Carol Full AvatarCarol Realini is a successful serial entrepreneur who  dedicates her time to working with global pioneers in mobile banking & payments. Carol was a World Economic Forum 2010 Technology Pioneer.  Carol passionately supports entrepreneurship, banking for all, and women in technology. She is the author of the 5-Star-on-Amazon BankRUPT, a book about banking innovation in the US, and co-author of Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

 

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Governance and Audit Scope of Mobile Banking in Bangladesh

 

As the number of registered mobile banking users in Bangladesh approach 10 million, Raihan Alhusain, Head of mCommerce Operations in Airtel Bangladesh offers his expert practitioner insight into how the mobile financial services guidelines issued two years ago support the remarkable growth in the country. He reflects on areas in which regulations could benefit from extension to support new scenarios stemming from this rapid growth.

Views specified are solely Raihan’s personal views as an expert in the mobile banking sector. This interview is part of the research Shift Thought conducted in the release of our “Digital Money in Bangladesh 2014” Viewport.

Background

In September 2011 Bangladesh Bank published the Mobile Financial Services (MFS) Guidelines allowing commercial banks in Bangladesh to start bank-led mobile financial services. The guidelines describes the services that may be offered, including a broad range that are required to promote financial inclusion. Only the bank-led model is permitted. The guidelines prescribe essential governance processes including licensing, agent management, AML/KYC, education of customers and agents, building awareness of customer services, security and controls related to technology, data retention policy and reporting and more.

Q: Why is this a good time to discuss 2-year old regulations?

image_thumb2Today the number of people in Bangladesh using financial services delivered through their mobile phones is fast approaching 10 million. Since the start of these services in 2011 when DBBL started without distributors, the systems have grown more sophisticated and with greater coverage so that now all the usage scenarios and implications are of great importance across the country. The guidelines issued by Bangladesh Bank as Central Bank and main regulator of financial services underpin the delivery of services. However along with the guidelines I thought it important to discuss the practical checks and balances these new systems imply in greater detail at this juncture.

Currently banks and mobile network operators (MNOs) execute agreements to ensure network coverage and agents reach for the service. The audit and governance scope of mobile banking in Bangladesh mainly focus on adherence to the policy established by the guidelines. Additionally as practitioners we continue to learn about governance and audit and determine the best ways for responsibilities to work across partners. By reflecting on these there may be useful points for others in Bangladesh as well as for other bank-based branchless banking developments in India, Nigeria and elsewhere around the world.

Q: What is the concept of a trust account in mobile banking and why is it important?

In the bank-led model adopted in Bangladesh, banks are the custodians of funds deposited against each mobile wallet. Even though the guidelines do not include the trust account mechanism, in order to be aligned with the guidelines, funds kept in the bank must to be treated as a liability and may not be used for operational purposes. This applies to Telco-led models as well. The accounting book should clearly mention the accumulated amount through a specific general ledger code, following IFRS (International Financial reporting standards) principles. The audit scope in this aspect should include a complete checking of the trust account mechanism.

Q: What is the concept of a book balance mechanism and why is it important?

At any point of time, the relevant balance in the bank book shall be equal to the virtual balance of all registered mobile accounts shown in the system. This means at any point in time, reconciliation processes must be in place to allow the following to be checked:

Bank Balance = Channel Balance (Agent Wallet Balance+ Distributor Wallet Balance) + Bank Branch Wallet Balance (If Banks deploy their own Branch to work as channel for Mobile Banking) + ATM Wallet Balance (If Banks deploy their own ATM channel to work as channel for Mobile Banking) + Registered Customer Wallet Balance + Merchant Point Wallet Balance + Commission Wallet Balance.

If a Bank disburses commission related to mobile banking through the mobile banking platform, it must keep an equal amount of funds in the account.

All virtual points created in the economy must be backed by the balance kept in the Bank. This mechanism is very important and should be adhered by so that virtual money is not created in the economy without being backed up by physical cash in the Bank.

The audit scope of this section should involve the matching of general ledger virtual wallet balances against the bank account balances.

Q: What are some of the compliance processes and issues relating to agent and partner management?

The Cash Points/ Agents are to be selected by the bank and a list with their names and addresses must be submitted to the Department of Currency Management and Payment System (DCMPS), Bangladesh Bank. This list must be updated on a monthly basis. Banks may need to develop their own Agent Accreditation Policy for this purpose. This policy should include assessment of competence to implement and support the proposed activity, financial soundness, ability to meet commitments under adverse conditions, business reputation, security and internal control, audit coverage, reporting and monitoring environment.

Banks have to follow the full KYC policy issued by Anti Money Laundering Department (AMLD) of Bangladesh Bank for the cash points/agents/partners. Banks bear all the liabilities that arise from improper action on the part of their subsidiaries/cash points/agents/partners. Banks need to perform periodic audits of the agent locations in order to ensure proper processes are being carried out by them. Strict action should be taken by the banks against the agents for not following the processes.

The audit scope in this section should include a complete checking on the modus operandi between the banks and the agents/ partners.

Q: What are your thoughts on audit relating to transaction management?

Clear guidelines have been issued by Bangladesh Bank relating to the transaction limits as well as overall caps including limits per customer, per agent and per month. Service charges have been fixed for each transaction. Banks need to ensure that these limits and caps are built into the mobile banking platform and service charge rules are set up as per the policy. Periodic audit is needed to ensure that this continues to be properly applied.

Q: What are some of the processes that must be followed regarding KYC management?

Banks have to use the prescribed ‘Know Your Customer (KYC)' format as given in the MFS guidelines. The Bank will be responsible to ensure that KYC processes implement guidelines issued by Anti Money Laundering Department of Bangladesh Bank (AMLD) for all customers and across all agents and partners. Banks need to ensure that the agents are properly trained in KYC management and also ensure that agent KYC has been checked and maintained properly while registering the agent.

The Audit Scope for KYC management should include the modus operandi of registering agents by Banks, checking of the authenticity of the documents provided while registering customers and agents and also record keeping of the documents related to KYC.

Q: How is AML compliance assured for the new branchless banking transactions?

All transactions should be monitored through an IT-based system developed by the banks. Banks shall ensure that suspected transactions can be isolated for subsequent investigation. Banks shall develop an IT based automated system to identify suspicious activity/transactions (STR/SAR) before introducing the services. Banks are expected to immediately report to Anti‐Money Laundering Department of Bangladesh Bank regarding any suspicious, unusual or doubtful transactions likely to be related to money laundering or terrorist financing activities.

A periodic audit is needed to ensure the mechanism of reporting of suspicious transactions. The audit scope in this sector includes checking of rules set in the system based reporting mechanism which should be in in line with the AML act of Bangladesh.

Q: What are some of the processes and issues expected to be followed relating to security?

Banks must follow the Guidelines on ICT Security for Scheduled Banks and Financial Institutions, 2010 issued by the Bangladesh Bank and ICT Act, 2006 to address the security issues of Mobile Financial Services which will address issues of confidentiality, integrity, authorization and non-repudiation for each transaction through the portal. Apart from the PIN, a second factor of authentication should be built‐in for additional security as chosen by the bank. A periodic audit must take place to ensure the implementation of security policy as mentioned in the guidelines.

Q: How is the customer required to be protected by the guidelines?

As per the MFS guidelines banks are held responsible for protecting consumer rights and for dispute resolution. Banks may address dispute resolution with the assistance of selected partners and agents. The Audit scope in this sector may include the checking of bank policy and turn-around time (TAT) for dispute resolution. It may also look into the proactive approach banks have taken to ensure better customer services to the customers and agents.

Q: Please share your final thoughts on governance and audit of processes relating to mobile banking

Bangladesh Mobile Banking has seen a tremendous growth in the last few months and is expected to achieve more than 15 million mobile banking accounts at the end of 2014 by reaching over 110 million cell phone users, where 60% are unbanked out of the population of 160 million.

Considering this success, growth, and expectation, in my opinion some of the gray areas that were not covered by the MFS guidelines need to be revisited. For example, both Banks and MNOs need to work together with the policy makers to set policies in regards to Branding, Platform Management and Marketing. This will set clear guidelines for everyone on the Do’s and Don’ts of each sector. MNOs, who have the greatest reach and expertise on Branding and Marketing need to be able to help banks to reach the expected number of mobile banking accounts through innovative marketing strategies, branding concepts and campaigns.

Apart from this, another area which needs to be taken care of is the modus operandi related to Payment Services. Through separate permissions granted by Bangladesh Bank, most of the MNOs provide various payment services such as BillPay, Railway Ticketing using their own platform. They have also integrated their platforms with those of the banks to offer various financial services. A common guideline needs to be issued and added to the MFS guidelines to clearly mention the modus operandi and policy with regards to these kinds of services.

In conclusion, I must say that for MFS in Bangladesh the sky is the limit. I am sure Bangladesh will be an example for the whole world in the setting up successful mobile financial services and also in establishing our main objective of banking the unbanked through mobile financial services. Just imagine what we can already do today in Bangladesh using mobile banking. We can pay our electricity, gas and water bills, buy railway tickets, send money to loved ones, receive salary, cash-out through ATMs and designated outlets, top up mobiles and more. Kudos to the banks, MNOs and the policy makers, Great achievement indeed!!!!

About the Author

raihan_thumb5Ruhullah Raihan Alhusain is a professional with over 9 years of experience in Mobile Banking. He graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with an Honors Bachelor in Business Administration. He started his career in mCommerce in Bangladesh with Grameenphone Ltd., a Telenor ASA. As Head of mCommerce Operations at Airtel Bangladesh Raihan continues to passionately build and launch specialised products in co-operation with DBBL. Recent projects include micro credit disbursement through mobile banking, airtime sales proceeds collection, mobile banking through modern trade such as ACI Swapno and mobile top-up with bKash.

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What must happen for Branchless Banking in Indonesia to move beyond pilots?

 

Rakhi Sahay, Shift Thought distributor in Indonesia shares her thoughts on the payments scene in Indonesia as the regulators seek to encourage financial inclusion through branchless banking. What are some of the sticking points and how can Indonesia join the ranks of other countries where these services have already entered into mainstream use?

Impressions of an Indian in Indonesia

We moved to Indonesia in June 2012 and it’s been wonderful living here since. Yet a few things came as a surprise, for instance the way people pay. Coming from India where people now increasingly use card payments, having to pay with cash took me back a bit. We had heard about the widespread use of cash for transactions in Indonesia but I had not imagined it to be at such a high level. While doing provision shopping even in big departmental stores, I was taken aback when cashiers did not accept local bank debit cards that I was using  – “sorry we only accept X bank debit card or cash”. Generally the small shops and stores that do business along the street only transact in cash in spite of having customers from middle income groups who have bank accounts and can make payment by card.

My interest in branchless banking and payments was further triggered by an informal  cimageonversation I had with my help, Fatimah. Every month she sends money to her mother who lives in a village. For this she goes to the nearby bank to deposit cash into her mother’s account. I got talking to her to learn about how people from her village who work outside send money home or pay their utilities. Do they use mobile technology for purchase and payment? Do they know about some of the new services being launched by banks, mobile operators and other providers in Indonesia?

Fatima knew about mobile banking and in fact had the m-banking application of Indosat on her mobile. However although she knew about the functionality it provides, she does not use it or plan to use it. She does not have a bank account which she believes is needed for mobile payments and transfers and also does not regard transferring through bank as a reliable and secure mode of transfer. Come to think of it, I too have not felt comfortable with using my mobile for payments. My interest was piqued and I chatted with others close to me and both banked and unbanked people tended to have some reason for not yet investigating the new methods available.

20131207_100534This conversation made me wonder - what needs to happen for myself and Fatimah, along with millions of other Indonesians to benefit from innovations to enjoy more convenient payments? If I feel restricted in making transfers and payments, how would people from remote islands and lower economic segments manage their daily needs? Do we need to change the mind-set of people? How can we increase accessibility to gain confidence? Surely branchless banking can add much value for people who have limited access to banking facilities.

 

20131207_100626Regulations play an integral role in providing a favourable ecosystem for any new banking initiative to flourish. Bank Indonesia, the regulator, has been treading the path carefully and its first pilot which ran from April 2013 just ended in November 2013. The regulators are now consolidating results and by early 2014 intend to roll out the full regulations on branchless banking. Many providers await this in order to obtain the certainty required for investing in the new technology and marketing efforts required to successfully launch the services for all sections of society.

The Market

The country is one of the early entrants in offering financial services through microfinance activities. Although there are a range of service providers to cater to different socio-economic groups, only 19.6% of the population has formal accounts (2011 Global Financial Index). It is estimated that around 100 million Indonesians do not or cannot access formal financial services in a population base of 250 million.

image

The vast geographical expanse and remote terrain creates hurdles in the provision of financial services. This creates a potential opportunity for alternative channels such as branchless banking and mobile money. Branchless banking is the delivery of financial services outside conventional bank branches through the use of retail agents and information and communications technologies to transmit transaction details (as defined by CGAP).

In 2012 there were 260 million mobile subscribers with 143 million unique subscribers. Only half the numbers of people possess bank accounts as compared to unique subscribers. The opportunity has been spotted, but scope for adoption remains immense. Branchless banking with the use of mobile technology and agent networks is rapidly improving financial inclusion in countries around the world. Mature microfinance markets of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Kenya have been able to achieve rapid adoption rates. Can Indonesia too leverage the penetration of its mobile technology to foster financial service? The large base of mobile users makes it easy for service providers who do not need to educate the masses on mobile usage.

Regulatory Environment

The regulators have been moving cautiously towards creating the regulatory environment required for this. A new regulation of December 2012 allows full encashment for person to person transfers using mobile wallets at agents. Then in April 2013 regulator Bank Indonesia (BI) released guidelines on branchless banking for banks and MNOs. The move caused MNOs to refocus on strengthening agent networks. As a pilot initiative, BI mandated five banks – Bank Mandiri, Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI), Bank Sinar Harapan Bali, Bank Tabungan Pensiunan Nasional (BTPN) and CIMB Niaga to offer branchless banking across the country, to cover rural and remote areas as well. The initiative is looking at bank-led, telco-led and hybrid models, to be tested under this program. The banks are also mandated to include provision store owners, gas stations and business outlets as agents in order to extend financial services to the excluded.

Progress of Branchless Banking Pilots

Reports on the progress of pilots suggest that the participating banks are able to see positive results in implementing branchless banking. Customers, in particular local business, homemakers and students benefit from more convenient access.

Banks have gained an increase in the number of new customers as well as agents. Bank Sinar Harapan Bali, a subsidiary of Bank Mandiri, reported an increase in new customers and agents and aims to double the number of agents. Similar information is reported by BRI, another state-owned bank, who is has reported around 200 transactions per day which is equivalent to daily work of one teller.

Going beyond pilots

The pilot has got many other banks and MNOs interested in branchless banking. But they are waiting for the regulator to open-up and also look at results from the pilot phase. The regulators are also considering inclusion of BDPs (regional development banks) to increase accessibility at regional levels. Bank Indonesia now plans to review the pilot phase and look at pan-country roll-out of branchless banking.

The power of mobile technology in expanding the reach of financial services is immense. It is encouraging to see regulators in Indonesia taking informed decisions in formulating regulations in this space. Indonesia has the advantage of being able to learn from other countries that now have mature branchless banking markets. Pre and post roll-out, it might be useful to take a closer look at such successful markets in terms of product offerings, agent selection, processes and platforms. Over 2014 much can be achieved through proper training of agents, pricing and commission strategies and marketing and communications.

clip_image002Rakhi Sahay, Shift Thought distributor in Indonesia, is a development professional with a deep interest in innovative channels that drive inclusive development. Rakhi’s interest in branchless banking is a result of long experience of working with institutions and consulting agencies in India.

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Mobile Banking in Bangladesh – striding across regulatory divides through savvy Marketing

 

In this guest post Raihan Alhusain, Head of mCommerce Operations, Airtel Bangladesh provides unique insights and practitioner experiences of the tremendous work in progress in Bangladesh. What strikes me from my interview with Raihan and the experiences he has shared is that the consumer is truly placed at the centre when mobile operators and banks come together in an earnest attempt to leverage the best strengths of each partner.

 

The early days of BillPay

imageThe story of Mobile Banking in Bangladesh starts in December 2006 with the launch of BillPay by a Mobile Network Operator (MNO). I was a part of the team that launched the service. We started everything from scratch, designing the financial operation process, the product, reconciliation and payment process. When BillPay became available across the country I felt that I was blessed, I felt that I was doing something good for my country and for the people. Until now, whenever I see the BillPay sign I feel the pride of launching the service in Bangladesh.

In the early days, customer education and customer trust were the biggest challenges for my team. The service was launched in Chittagong and soon started to create interest amongst the customers. Customers were most attracted by the convenience. At one point in time, people in the Chittagong region were able to pay water, electricity and gas bills through the BillPay platform.

imageBillPay used two models, one with 100% validation of data and the other with zero validation of data. The utility company, having automated billing and payment data mainly used the validated system of BillPay. This means whenever customer paid a bill of a specific month, the billing data used to get verified through the utility company billing server and after the payment was made, the payment data was also verified and posted automatically.

What didn’t go well though was the need for manual posting of BillPay data. For some of the utility companies, posting of payment data was totally manual and MNOs had to send paper based payment data to the decentralized offices of the utility company. This process required manual intervention and extensive man-hours to post data.

Then came Railway Ticketing. The same MNO launched the service under a new name. This created another option for BillPay wallet customers. They were able to not only pay electricity, gas and water bills but also to pay for their railway ticketing. This removed the hassle of manual processing of railway ticket payments and added another milestone to the automated payment system in Bangladesh. However, mobile banking through the BillPay platform offered the payment services and fund deposit (Cash in) only. Cash Out was not available.

MFS Guidelines arrive

In 2011 the MFS Guidelines took complete shape and were published by the Bangladesh Bank – a bank-led Branchless Banking model was introduced. One of the major local banks first launched the complete mobile banking facility allowing customers to withdraw cash from the authorized outlets of the bank and also through ATM.

This model was agent initiated. That means most of the revenue generating transactions were initiated through the agent wallet. DBBL signed an agreement with several telcos to ensure the availability of mobile banking at their networks. Since this model was agent initiated, the agreements with telcos also ensured Telco Agent networks could be used for Mobile Banking.

What went well in this model was the Trust Factor. Mobile banking with a bank added more trust in the mind of customers. What did not go well was the channel/ distribution model they used. Initially all the agents belonging to them were directly connected to their Bank Branches. This means an agent had to go all the way to branches for mobile banking (Cash in and Out from agent wallets).

The learning continues

imageShortly after this a subsidiary of another SME based local bank launched their service. Their model was completely customer initiated. All they needed to do, was to sign up with the MNO for access through USSD. They did not depend on the Telco agent to expand their channel reach.

They came up with a distribution channel structure similar to that of the MNO. What went well for them was their expertise in running an effective channel and their strategy towards establishment of their Brand. Their brand achieved more prominence than the other brands in the country. They also signed an agreement with several telcos that ensures the availability of their services across networks.

Both the players ensured the availability of the mobile banking services through the USSD network. The success of this partnership depended on several initiatives taken by both bank and telco partners. Initiatives such as B2B (Channel Payment), P2B (Merchant Solution), B2P (Salary Disbursement, Micro Credit Disbursement), G2P (Government Allowance Payment) brought ease in the life of customers, increased revenue for the Banking Partners as well as ensured stickiness to the MNO SIMs.

Mobile banking goes mainstream

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According to Bangladesh Bank sources, 17 banks now offer mobile financial services (MFS) within just three years. Mainstream PCBs (private commercial banks) now provide services. For instance, we have Brac Bank's bKash, DBBL mobile banking, IBBL MCash, the Prime Bank Easy Cash and more. The number of mobile banking accounts is about 7.21 million with about 0.108 million agents countrywide. The volume of transaction was $1,030 million in the first quarter of 2013. Significant achievements indeed!

Personally this has been an exciting journey for me as I look back and compare what our services could do for customers with just BillPay, and what we can now do for unbanked customers. This makes every experience precious, and justifies all the hard work from our regulators and people across all the different industries.

About the Author

raihanRuhullah Raihan Alhusain is a professional with over 9 years of experience in Mobile Banking. He graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with an Honors Bachelor in Business Administration. He started his career in mCommerce in Bangladesh with Grameenphone Ltd., a Telenor ASA. Today as Head of mCommerce Operations at Airtel Bangladesh Raihan continues to passionately build and launch specialised products in co-operation with DBBL. Recent projects include micro credit disbursement through mobile banking, airtime sales proceeds collection, mobile banking through modern trade such as ACI Swapno and mobile top-up with bKash.

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Q&A from our “Disruptions in Digital Payments in China” webinar

Thanks very much to all of you who helped us to make this live webinar (our first!) a great success. With representation from over 20 countries, we received a number of questions and were not able to answer all of them in the time available. The post below addresses these and we hope you will find this useful. There is never just one point of view, and we would love to hear your comments and your unique ways of approaching the questions. If you missed it, catch the free replay here.

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Q1: Is it advisable to partner with a Chinese company when seeking to enter this market?

A1: In general you may not have a choice in this. The question is with whom to partner and how to set it up so as to remain in control. An example is Yahoo China and Alipay. In Jack Ma’s speech at Stanford on May 14, 2013 he mentioned that Alipay digested Yahoo – they simply ate Yahoo and would not have been able to do their P-2-P advertisement platform without that.

This is a great question and to do full justice would probably need a session in itself. As a guideline, it depends on your industry, your ambitions and the roadmap you plan. Suffice it to say that I have seen careers made and broken largely due to the manner of handling this issue.

Q2: In your experience what is the biggest threat to successfully entering the Chinese market?

Timing and partnerships. Possibly in no other market could I say more strongly that a 360 degree understanding and a watching brief is critical. You cannot afford to walk into this blindfolded without opening yourself and your company to high risks, neither can you afford to do nothing. Understanding, anticipating and planning is highly important. It is equally important to understand Chinese culture and history as much as you deeply absorbing knowledge on the payments ecosystem and timeline.

Products and services must be made fit for the unique expectation of the market. For instance the clean streamlined experience of Amazon is not what is preferred – online shoppers want a busy, “happening” website. Similarly, there is a very different online-offline-CSR engagement in the consumer journey that one needs to learn.

There is a window of opportunity that must be well understood. We have found that players who act too soon have faced problems. On the other hand due to the need for domestic partners, it is advisable to act before all the “good partners” are taken.

Q3: How stable is the regulatory landscape in China? Is it prone to sudden changes?

In general it has taken many years so far for changes expected and talked about to actually happen. For instance I recall I first studied proposed regulations for licensing third party payment providers way back in 2006. They actually came out in 2010.

Similarly it is not uncommon to have a mass rollout, big commitments and plans in a specific direction only to see it overturned (example RF-SIM). For players who have built these products specifically for the Chinese market this can represent a serious setback.

Q4: Who are the companies to watch in this space?

I touched on the main players in the China payments ecosystem during the webinar, so for those who have not heard it, it could be useful at this point to listen to the free replay here. Of course our 295 page “Digital Money in China 2013” viewport offers you the whole list of players, partnerships and initiatives with our best understanding of their importance and traction. There is so much happening in parallel and there is a high degree of cross-over. What we tend to do is to note how the payments gatekeepers are proceeding – CUP, CM, The big 4, the big 3 large PSPs and more.

Q5: What are the best partners to work with?

This depends on who you are and what is required by the regulatory environment. If you are to apply for a license there is a lead time involved.

A good example is Western Union’s recent thrust into China in partnership with ICBC and CUP.

Q6: How should we interpret Digital Payments in Hong Kong? How does the Chinese government and market incorporate the progress and regulation of that market?

The webinar only dealt with Mainland China. We plan a separate webinar that will address Hong Kong, China as also other countries in the region. In general the approach is One Country- Two Systems. This is why Hong Kong, China has a critical role to play in digital payments relating to Mainland China. More when we tackle this topic. Please register to our website (registration is free, takes seconds, only requires email address and provides you a much greater access to the overall content on our portal) so we can send on an invite to you once plans are in place.

Q7: Would you clarify your definitions for "digital wallet" and "digital money", thanks!

The Digital Money domain has been described by Shift Thought™ as a way to understand the ecosystem, products, services and infrastructure involved in the digitisation and transfer of value. We use this term to refer to a host of financial services that use innovative alternative channels, technologies, providers and payment instruments.

For a full definition and understanding of our approach please see Blog #3: What is digital money?

The Digital Wallet domain has been described by Shift Thought™ as a means of understanding the whole range of stored value products aimed at digitising value and enabling the owner to utilise it in a way that offers a superior experience as compared to traditional payment methods. Services utilise an account and stored value or e-money that may be utilised across various channels and services. This includes prepaid cards, vouchers, mobile wallets, e-wallets and more.

Q8: Is there any real digital money in China (I mean digital money that is not dependent on bank account or credit card)? All mobile payments solution are NOT based on digital money.

This is a good point. Please look at my response to Q7 on what is Digital Money earlier. We track an extended set of initiatives to do justice to our definition. However, specifically to answer yours, there is E-money that has been around for a while now. Prepaid cards, both open and close loop exist as discussed in our Webinar and covered in detail in our Viewport. More importantly, digital wallets and mobile wallets are very much in use.

You are right that all mobile payments are NOT based on e-money and a number of them require a connection to a bank account or card account. In the way we cover each of the 50 key initiatives on our portal, you’ll see our icon and descriptions that exactly show what payment instruments are supported for Senders and Receivers of each kind of service.

I hope this answers your question. Please feel free to reach out for a quick chat to discuss further. Also, this is not set in stone. We found an absence of accurate definitions in the marketplace and in those cases provided our own. Where possible we comply with the way in which CGAP, GSMA, Mobey Forum, NFC Forum and other key bodies and thought leaders already use these terms.

Q9: After utilising your China 2013 viewport, I also obtained your comprehensive Indonesia 2013 report. I noticed how in each country, both APAC members have approached and regulated differently - How would Shift Thought help a potential customer navigate these different markets?

That is a great question and thank you for the compliments on our viewports. Shift Thought is fortunate to have compared 19 different APAC countries in terms of regulatory approach as well as the predictor framework we use to project the growth of each of the 32 services we class as Digital Money.

We maintain a highly comprehensive knowledge base of regulations that impact on all these services, and understand how they may apply from each perspective. This, along with our deep understanding of player competencies puts us in a great place when we consult with large mobile operator, banking and money transfer groups in search of the right partners.

We’ll talk more on this in the Indonesia webinar. If you pop me an email on which countries you want to know about first I’ll consider this as we prioritise the webinars scheduled.

Q10: Charmaine - do you see an opportunity for mobile point-of-sale devices targeting Merchants in China much the same way that Square has addressed small Merchant needs in the United States?

Absolutely, and as is always the case in China, one of these providers currently cutting their teeth in the highest populated country in the world could well become a challenger to the Square, iZettle and huge number of mPOS providers currently starting of from the East. But it’s not just China. We’ve seen very interesting and innovative approaches elsewhere in APAC. This blog is getting too large, maybe a separate post later?

Q11: Sub Saharan Africa population is forecasted to reach China's in 20 years. What similarities if any do you see between these 2 markets and what learnings can Africa derive from China now to foster further successes in the contribution of digital money to more financial inclusion of unbanked populations.

Wow, this is a biggie. Thanks for this great question and sincere apologies that I can’t do justice to all of this today. However, I put it the other way, what can China learn from Africa including sub-Saharan Africa? – That is the real question. As the access that people have differs, I’d like to do fuller justice to this in a later post.

Q12: Hi - how pervasive are contactless payments in PRC? Thank you

For all the years I’ve worked with China there has always been something planned – most were trials, pilots. The real progress is in terms of installation of POS that supports contactless payments and cards. Once that is in place and China has elected to support the NFC standard, the people who currently use smart cards for travel all across China could very quickly change their behaviour to use of a mobile device instead. So to answer your question, contactless payments by card are already surprisingly pervasive!

I hope you have found this post useful. Again, this is just my perspective and I would love to hear from you as that is when the learning process really gets enriched. Thanks for the wonderful outpouring of support to me and thanks for being a valued member of our little fledgling Shift Thought community. Together we can make things better. Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Re-imagining India – the global payments factory of tomorrow

 

My title is based on my favourite book “Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani. Though I now live in the UK, I am fortunate to be a global worker and when I analyse news on India it is always with fond affection for the country of my birth. As India celebrated its 66th Independence Day a few days ago, this blog series is dedicated to focussing on its achievements over the last decade and imagining where next for this amazing country.

Transformation at home

clip_image001In the 1990s the Telecoms revolution opened the doors to a new level of progress for India. Entrepreneurs freed from shoddy fixed-line services today manage little empires from mobile offices based on a trusty cell phone, a less reliable pair of chappals and an occasional rickshaw ride. The figure shows the steep growth of mobile connections in this, the second most populous country in the world.

Now India has an opportunity to usher in the next revolution: based on Aadhaar identity, real-time money transfer across the length and breadth of the country, card payments through the RuPay domestic card scheme and mobile wallets that can be used to cut through layers of middle-men and go direct to the consumer. The mobile phone is truly evolving into an “office in a box”, as it becomes a means of identification, information dissemination and payment. Digital payments are set to revitalise the domestic economy and create a strong impetus for the next stage of growth. At 60 million, the MSME sector of India is just getting started and reduction of friction in payments will grease the wheels.

It is not gold but cashless payments that holds the key to India’s future. Money going digital is the solution that is needed to control black money and stop the flight of capital. As the need for cash payments reduces it will be so much easier to eradicate behaviour that destroys the very fabric on which poverty reduction measures rest.

Transformation abroad

As I write this Wipro has just been named amongst the top 3 in the 2013 Global Outsourcing 100 list. The list ranks companies on parameters including customer experience, global presence and competencies. In the 1980s I am proud to have been a part of the revolution as Wipro led by Azim Premji (my first employer) along with Infosys (Narayan Murthy, Nandan Nilekani), Tatas and countless others set out to prove that a power cut or two could not stand in the way of a good nation turning itself into the IT Centre of the world.

I believe prerequisite conditions now exist for Indian entrepreneurs to craft a new success story. This story will build on past successes, using technology to create innovative digital money solutions for the world, just as India did in the space of Information Technology.

Can India make payments cheaper, faster and more secure by injecting low cost value added services and payment platforms into payment chains for the new online “global customers”? There are many factors to support this. In my next blog I expect to touch on the many recent changes that perfectly poise the country to capitalise on new payments, at home and abroad.

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Malala’s vision for Pakistan and Digital Money

Did you watch the amazing speech of Malala Yousafzai addressing the United Nations on July 12, 2013 as part of her campaign to ensure free compulsory education for every child? It is up to us to move from platitudes to action in realising her vision. How can Digital Money help?

 

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Get inside your competitor’s head with the Shift Thought Digital Money SAGE

 

Although mobiles and smartphones present an exciting new dimension for consumer payments, the Shift Thought Digital Money SAGE offers payments providers a panoramic view, so as to prepare for the eventual growth that is essential for building alternative payments services.

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When the dust settles, what position will the Post have in the newly established Digital Money ecosystem?

This morning while reading about the Joy in Oxenhope, UK from the promise of a Post Office at the Co-op store, I was reminded of the critical importance of innovations in retail payments, not only to the unbanked and the under-banked in developing and emerging countries but to people in some of the most developed countries in the world such as Europe, the Americas and Australia. Oxenhope is not by far in the remotest region of the UK (See figure), and closing down of post offices is a regrettable and seemingly unavoidable trend that should be of concern world-wide.

clip_image002[9]A large part of the long awaited services that are to be offered by the Post Office in Oxenhope involve money, including online banking, cash deposits, tax disc registration and withdrawals, pension transactions. Post offices offer an important outlet for Government services, such as cashing Green Giros and paying for fishing licences, as well as allowing customers to top up mobile phones, pay bills and pre-order foreign currency.

Around the world it is becoming increasingly costly to support brick-and-mortar branches, and post offices play a critical role in offering basic financial services. In sub-Saharan Africa over 80% of post offices are located outside the most populated cities – as 82.5% of populated live there.

The time is now for post offices to reinvent themselves and adopt a central role in the newly developing Digital Money ecosystem. In subsequent posts we’ll focus on some of the hero services around the world that are, maybe not at the foot of the mountain, but still somewhere near Base Camp 2.

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