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Archive for October, 2010

Mobilizing the Unbanked at Home

October 14, 2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

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Partnering with Sybase, MobiKash Afrika launched a pilot of the first intra-region, mobile network- agnostic and bank-agnostic mobile commerce solution for sub-Saharan Africa in September. The pilot is in Kenya, which is already a much-quoted reference country for banking the unbanked, due to Safaricom’s successful M-Pesa solution, and 63 percent of households owning a mobile phone according to the 2009 census. (Compare that to the 3.6 percent with computers.)

It’s exciting news for a few reasons. First, mBanking is real, live and available today, and the Sybase 365 mobile commerce platform is on the leading edge. Second, due to MobiKash being operated by an independent third party, it’ll be available to all users irrespective of their Mobile Network Operator, leading to a greater network effect.

Third, and most important, MobiKash will provide a range of banking services to people who have never had access before. Less than 10 percent of Africans currently participate in formal banking for a variety of reasons. On the one side, banks have been unable to maintain the profitability of services to this population via standard channels. On the other, the target customers distrust traditional banks and lack efficient transportation to branches that are few and far between. Using the new service, Africans will be able to conduct commerce from their mobile phones, be it purchasing goods and services, securing loans, and (of course) traditional banking.

MobiKash plans to expand to other African countries in the near future, where mobile adoption rates are growing rapidly, and provide intra-country services where possible.

This mBanking revolution (if you’ll allow me the term) to bank the unbanked is happening all over the world. Internationally, the media has written quite a bit about it, but there hasn’t been as much coverage in the U.S. We seem generally less interested over here, and I don’t know why. Maybe we think we don’t have an unbanked population here, but we do.

A January 2009 FDIC survey reported that approximately 7.7 percent (9 million) U.S. households are unbanked, meaning they don’t have a checking or savings account. Another 18 percent on top of that (20 million) U.S. households are underbanked, meaning they rely on alternative financial services such as check cashers, loan sharks and pawnbrokers.

So why, when the vast majority of Americans own mobile phones — something like 90 percent — and mCommerce technology doesn’t require high-end devices, aren’t we doing more about it? The MobiKash service enables customers to access and conduct business with any financial institution via any mobile phone service provider, and includes integration into networks of ATMs, POS terminals, EPOS systems, the Internet and local agents. It would be great to see lessons learned in Asia and Africa being applied into the U.S. market. Aren’t the issues—banks unable to provide services at a profit, customers distrust and lack of transportation—the same? At present, we see a lot of activity in Latin America, but not yet in the U.S. We expect it to change as early as next year, with mobile carriers that serve the unbanked through their prepay offerings leading the way, and some banks putting some trials into the market, looking to see if mobility gives them the lower-cost channel they need to serve the unbanked market.

A service like MobiKash, which allows customers to pay bills, send money, manage their accounts and transfer funds could do a lot to create a gateway into the mainstream financial system. It could help the unbanked right here at home build savings, improve their credit score, secure lower rates for loans and fees for transactions, and reduce a source of personal stress.

This is not only a huge business opportunity, but also a huge do-the-right-thing opportunity. Who’s with me?

Read more on MobiKash Afrika:

Just a Placeholder for Now

October 1, 2010 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

I used the new Facebook Places feature for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Keen to see how it works and what difference it would make to ads served to me, I checked in at AT&T Park, home of the Giants, and Candlestick Park, home of the 49ers. 

Facebook already uses personal information to deliver targeted advertising, much of it based on the location of each user’s “current city” or IP address mapping. The ads haven’t appeared on the mobile app (yet?), but when I log in from a desktop or laptop computer, I see them for local restaurants, department stores, real estate, and even a weight-loss camp (wait, how did I get pegged for that one?). So, after I checked in at the sports stadiums, I expected to see some advertisements targeted to a sports fan, and more specifically to those venues where I’d been: Tickets to upcoming games, maybe? Team gear, at least? Coupon for a pint? Something? 

Nothing. So we wait, and wonder. How far is Facebook already using my 49ers and Giants stadium check-ins? When is the Places check-in data going to start making the ads more relevant to me—and therefore more valuable to both Facebook and the advertiser?

I’m also wondering at what point we’ll see advertising on the mobile versions of Facebook. I’m primarily a “mobile-first” user rather than Web. I only have time to check Facebook when I’m in a taxi, or at an airport. At present, I see no ads, and I have to admit I enjoy the clean mobile interface. Bt at some point, as more people become mobile-first or mobile-only, I’m guessing this will change—and at that point, ensuring ads are as targeted as possible is key. 

Looking forward to seeing how this evolves.