The goal is not to com­pete with the banks

In Cen­tral Africa, un­like East or West, tel­coms can only of­fer mo­bile money in part­ner­ships with banks. Within this frame­work MTN is fo­cused on reach­ing out to the in­for­mal sec­tor

The Africa Report - - COUNTRY FOCUS - Alain Nono Gen­eral man­ager, mo­bile fi­nan­cial ser­vices, MTN Cameroon

TAR: Why is MTN in­volved in the mo­bile money sec­tor? ALAIN NONO: MTN’S global strat­egy is to ex­pand fi­nan­cial ser­vices, and this in­cludes money trans­fers. We started di­ver­si­fy­ing sev­eral years ago to cre­ate new rev­enue streams, as the ten­dency with 4G is for voice rev­enue to drop, es­pe­cially with the ar­rival of over-the-top ser­vices. So for sev­eral years MTN has been look­ing for new rev­enue streams, es­pe­cially in terms of dig­i­tal ser­vices. We started in mo­bile money in 2010 and it started off very slowly as it was some­thing new for us. We have been sharing our ex­pe­ri­ence with other op­er­a­tions, and things have re­ally been pick­ing up over the past two years. It is not some­thing we did on our own but within the reg­u­la­tory frame­work. Reg­u­la­tions are tight in Cameroon and within the Com­mu­nauté Economique et Moné­taire de l’afrique Cen­trale. The goal is to bring money from the in­for­mal sec­tor into the for­mal sec­tor. The goal is not to com­pete with the banks, as the banks are our partners. We are do­ing what the banks have not yet done, which is to turn to in­for­mal or un­banked cus­tomers.

“We are do­ing what the banks have not yet done, which is to turn to un­banked cus­tomers”

What part of your busi­ness does mo­bile money rep­re­sent? I am not go­ing to give you spe­cific statis­tics be­cause of con­fi­den­tial­ity. What I can say is that there has been sig­nif­i­cant growth in rev­enue tied to mo­bile money over the past year […]. We have more than 12,000 mo­bile-money agents who have an ac­tive ac­count […]. We have 10 mil­lion clients and to­day they have 3.6 mil­lion mo­bile-money wal­lets. What I can say is that we es­ti­mate that, [mea­sured] over a three-month pe­riod, we are on equal foot­ing with our prin­ci­pal com­peti­tor in the mar­ket [Orange Cameroon].

There have been some re­cent polemics about the management of the sec­tor, and the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions min­istry said it is go­ing to look at mo­bile-money reg­u­la­tions again. Do you ex­pect any changes? I think jour­nal­ists are the ones launch­ing the polemics to sell pa­pers. […] The reg­u­la­tions are firm and clear and spell out what trans­ac­tions are al­lowed. The client can make de­posits, with­drawals, pay­ments and trans­fers from one client to an­other. And all of those trans­ac­tions are done un­der the su­per vi­sion of the mo­bile firm’s bank­ing part­ner. At this level, there are ab­so­lutely no reg­u­la­tory prob­lems. So when we see in the pa­pers or hear in the streets that we are do­ing an un­reg­u­lated ac­tiv­ity, it is not true.

Orange Cameroon has in­tro­duced a Visa card for its mo­bile­money clients. Are you think­ing of sim­i­lar in­no­va­tions? With a lo­cal bank we are in­tro­duc­ing a so­lu­tion that al­lows for with­drawals with­out a card. You can go to any cash point and with­draw money by val­i­dat­ing it with your mo­bile phone. To­day we are us­ing mo­bile phones to make some pay­ments at petrol sta­tions and we are do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar as a pi­lot for some shops. We would like to em­brace the broader spec­trum of fi­nan­cial ser­vices […]. In terms of us­age, top­ping up your ac­count is one of the prin­ci­pal uses of the mo­bile wal­let in Cameroon. That is fol­lowed in terms of pop­u­lar­ity by money trans­fers and pay­ments for goods and ser­vices.

In more de­vel­oped mo­bile­money mar­kets, ac­counts are be­ing used to build up credit pro­files and of­fer ser­vices like loans. Is that pos­si­ble in Cameroon? We can’t ex­clude in­ves­ti­gat­ing such ser­vices in the fu­ture. Some of our op­er­a­tions pro­vide such ser­vices […] but al­ways in part­ner­ship with fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. In East or West Africa, reg­u­la­tions are less re­stric­tive, and mo­bile op­er­a­tors are al­lowed to emit mo­bile money them­selves. In­ter­view by Rein­nier Kazé in Douala and Mar­shall Van Valen

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