Orange opens up Mobile Money in Africa

Orange Shop

Orange Shop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mobile Money has brought a great number of benefits to parts of the developing world including financial independence and improved security. Until now, Safaricom’s M-PESA has dominated this ever-growing market. However, it comes as little surprise to many that Orange is now trying to stake its claim. Orange Mobile has just rolled out its first international mobile money transfer service called “Orange Money International Transfer” which will operate between Mali, Senegal and Ivory Coast – the first such service in the region. According to Orange, 200 million euros are transferred between these three countries every year. Can Orange cut it in the ultra-competitive world of mobile money in Africa?

A customer in The Ivory Coast will now be able to send money directly to friends and family in Mali or Senegal with their Orange Money account. The sender simply needs to dial #144# from their mobile phone, and enter the Orange telephone number of the recipient and the amount to be sent. The money is immediately available in the recipient’s account to make payments, pay bills, purchases and transfers, or alternatively it can be withdrawn at a nearby location from any Orange Money distributor, also known as a Mobile Money Agent.

Mobile Money is the simple transfer of money through SMS based services. Its success in Kenya has been replicated in many parts of Africa, and more recently India. The system has flourished due to a lack of traditional banking infrastructure (consider the costs of building ATMs and bank branches in Africa’s remote, rural areas), the relative low cost of the service in comparison to bank charges, as well as the fact that the mobile phone has become ubiquitous in the developing world over the last decade. Mobile money has been particularly successful in reaching the ‘unbanked’, those most at need in society. A mobile phone is an essential device to many people in the developing world, and mobile money is simply an extension of this.

The mobile money system is dependent on a network of people who are in essence the face of the business called Agents. Agents can be anyone from people working in neighbourhood shops, petrol stations and lottery ticket stalls. These agents are the “face” of the business and determine customers’ trust and willingness to transact over the mobile platform, and allow people to cash-in and cash-out money when required. The whole mobile money system is dependent on this network. If the network of agents is too large, then there are too many agents who are not transacting meaning they have no incentive to ensure they are ‘topped up’. If the network is too small then there aren’t enough agents to enable consumers to transact meaning the network falls down and the whole system loses credibility. This loss of credibility was particularly prevalent in West Africa, which until Orange’s foray has had limited exposure and success in mobile money. It is costly to build and manage the agent network, but these costs are worth incurring in order to get to scale and they will eventually pay off – as some of the more successful mobile money experiments are showing.

The success of mobile money depends on the network of agents to build up trust, and to be readily available for people to cash-in or cash-out. Success for Orange in West Africa will depend on the quality, training and commitment of its network of Agents. The jury is still out on whether Orange will succeed in its Mobile Money roll-out in West Africa. What is evident is the necessity of an excellent network of Agents, a build-up of trust amongst the everyday user in Africa, as well as gentle persuasion that mobile money is a more cost-effective way of dealing with money that traditional everyday means.

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One thought on “Orange opens up Mobile Money in Africa

  1. Pingback: How mobile technology is transforming Africa | Mobile In The Developing World

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