Understanding MobileMoney Agency propositions and operations in Nigeria

 

Emmanuel Okoegwale

Principal Associate - MobileMoneyAfrica

December 21, 2012.

 

As mobile financial services industry in Nigeria takes shape with limited agency network to serve as touch points to meet the needs of the subscribers, we willexamine the value adding roles of the agents in the emerging mobile financial ecosystem in Nigeria. Mobile Money is the use of mobile devices as a means ofauthentication to access basic financial services. Currently about 16 providers are licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

An agent is an intermediary that represents the provider that could be a Bank or a non Bank to offer the service to the last mile, the subscribers. They are very critical to the success of the mobile money scheme because they serve as the touch points for cash in, cash out, bill processes and other services that the subscribers will want to conduct without the need for a physical visit to a Bank Branch which are limited by spread and mostly concentrated in urban areas.

Mobile Money successes depend greatly on the availability of these service points as we have seen with MPESA in Kenya and G-cash in Philippines.

 

Simple products/ simple service

First time agents are always curious about the Banks taking their services outside the secure branch network and place their trust in them as agents to serve their communities through the use of mobile phones, POS and other devices for financial services. While the agents are willing most times, ability to understand the service is important to signing up and long-term relationships.

In many Instances, store owners that are already positioned and actively selling similar low value / high volume products, will turn down an opportunity to become an agent due to poor product knowledge from the agent recruiter, inadequate marketing information or in some instances, absence of agent marketing materials.

It is crucial for the recruiter to be properly trained while resisting the lame attempt to push down commission earnable as the only value proposition to potential agents. Understanding the primary business of the agent will help to unlock the best approach as we have seen that many potential agents are actually best fit as merchants and not agents. Resist the attempt to instantly sign up agents. Develop a relationship and you have a deal.

 

 

Avoid Round robin visits to agents

Best practices for agent sign-up, entails first caller visits to explain the products and if progress was made, the requirements are made available for review, observation and comments by potential agents. There is need to resist round robin and unproductive visits to the agents. Agents have primary businesses and do manage their time to attend to the demands of their businesses.

Where the recruiter keeps checking on a potential agent without new information, marketing materials or updates but rather making passing visits which are of no value, the agents might become disinterested over time.

Every single agent trip must add value in terms of record keeping checking, new features advice, branding placement, capacity building, mentoring and monitoring.

 

Agent commissions

Potential agent’s main interest in becoming an agent is to earn decent commissions from the transactions. There are non transactional earnings like registrations and transactional revenues from transactions conducted at agent locations. Where transaction commissions earnable are vague and unclear, agents are not encouraged to sign up to the scheme. Transparent and sustainable commissions are the core driver of agency sign-up drive.

Agent payout circle must also be clear, transparent and easy to understand.

 

Know-Your-Agents

Agent requirements are necessary to enable providers know who the agents are, what they do and how they are positioned to add value to the scheme. It is very important to have clear cut requirements that are commensurate with agent categories and threshold as stipulated by the regulator and practically, implementable.

While it is desirous to have a universal set of requirements for standardization purposes, it is also critical to have non mandatory requirements depending on community size, agent location and peculiarities of targeted market.

Some documentation like Utility bill may be farfetched in some semi rural and rural communities. After thoughts and additional agency documentation requirements, places additional burden on the agents to seek for these documentation.

Demanding Ambiguous, Conflicting and sometimes unnecessary agency documentation requirements are some of the major barriers of agency sign ups that is currently faced in the industry.

 

Agent ratio

Aggressive agency sign up could be seen as early day’s activities but understanding and measuring the customer to agent ratio is critical to position the network sustainably. If agents sign ups quickly outstrip the customer coverage per community, demands will be highly fragmented across large numbers of agent which will earn very little for the given numbers of customers.

Signing up agents aggressively should be adequately balanced with plans to place some in reserve or waiting list for possible replacement where are agents dropped for non performance, fraud or non compliance with scheme provider’s provisions.

Agent /customer ratio might be a small projection in the early days but should increase over time as agents build capacity, trust and knowledge, over time.

 

Branding

Selling a mass driven, low value and high volume product, require lots of street visibility. While above the line marketing via Television, bill boards, event sponsorships and newspaper adverts may have their advantages, agent locationbranding is extremely useful to promote product, build trust and location visibility.

It is not enough to have agent id, service availability posters at agent locations. These are only educational and promotional materials while inside the agent’s outlet. They do not announce the service to the passerby from a little distance away. For a traffic driven service, how will the customers know agent locations to transact? Strong color schemes and branding are strongly linked to the successes of selling airtime tops-upsat least in developing world and should also be adopted for such services as mobile money.

Customers should be able to identify agent locations from a distance with a color code that is unique to the brand. While not all agents will agree to paint their outlets but most will do if they perceive that it will improve traffic to their outlets for purpose of transacting mobile money which may also benefit their primary businesses.

 

Record keeping

Most businesses that will ever sign up to become agents did that because they are willing and they have ability to offer the service. While willingness is a major factor to watch out for, ability is very important. Agents might be able to provide all the necessary documentation requirements, fund their e-float account but not literate enough to records transactions or patient enough to update their record even if they are literate.

No matter how useful an agent is, if record keeping is poor, such agents must be re-trained, monitored and might be dropped if He/She, cannot consistently keep records which might be a regulatory requirement or required to manage customer / agent disputes or  for back end reconciliation purposes.

 

Support

An efficient back-end support system is the life blood of an active agency network. In situations where things do not work as planned due to platform, people and process failures, agents should be able to reach out via telephony, email, sms or visit to resolve issues. Back end support will enable the agent build capacity, confidence and trust which are necessary for the uptake of the service and enable them function at optimal level.

 

e-float Management

Exchanging cash for e-money is the most critical aspect of agent functions. Where this is inefficient, re-balancing cost of the agents might increase significantly and it may also impact services which could lead to liquidity challenges and poor performance of agents. E-float rebalancing should be efficient, easy and timely. Where agents travel long distances or wait for hours on end after funding their e-wallets account to receive notification of e-float, can be discouraging.

Ability to fund accounts through multiple channels like atm, online, agent-to-agent, account-to-agents should be available to ensure that agents are able to funds their accounts anytime and anywhere without a physical visit to a Bank branch which can also be used for e-float funding.

 

Set up demo centers

Setting up strategic touch points in well traffic environments for potential agents to seek information, demo, support and set – up procedures will improve understanding, interaction and the knowledge of the agents.

These demo centers might be embedded inside Bank premises, gas stations, bus tops and other major interactions points to serve the needs of the agents. In the early days, it might be owned by the scheme provider with plans to replicate such structures nationwide and eventually, transfer to third-party agent network providers.

 

Emmanuel  Okoegwale is the principal Associate at MobileMoneyAfrica.He will be a Judge in the mobilemoney category at the Global GSMA event in Barcelona in Feb 2013.

 

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