Simon Pont, CEO, ECR Retail Systems
Over the last decade, Africa has become the second-fastest growing economic region in the world, with an average annual growth of 5.1 per cent and a rapidly growing IT infrastructure.
Mobile technology has been at the heart of this growth. In 1998, there were less than four million mobile phones on the continent; last year that number had swelled to 500 million – half the population. By the end of last year, the figure had risen 735 million. In fact, Africa is now the second-largest mobile market by connections after Asia, and the fastest growing mobile market in the world.
The growth in mobile devices is largely down to their improved capabilities. Whilst consumers in the western world may take advantage of the benefits of smartphones – largely their similarities to computers – for African’s mobiles represent a whole way of life. Many don’t have access to a computer, their mobile phone therefore is the device which equips them with the ability to carry out all the essential tasks we have been accustomed to performing for decades.
Mobile banking is perhaps the best example of this. According to California-based mobile-banking innovator Carol Realini, executive chairman, Obopay: “Africa is the Silicon Valley of banking. The future of banking is being defined here… It’s going to change the world.” In fact it’s estimated that by 2015 global mobile transactions will exceed $1 trillion dollars.
The banking evolution in Africa kicked into life five years ago, with the launch of Safaricom’s M-Pesa – a service which allows users to store money on their mobiles and then use it to pay their utility bill or to send money to their friends via text. At the time this marked a revolutionary breakthrough, it was a cheap, easy-to-use service which granted millions of Africans the ability to access a bank account and avoid the hefty charges of doing so.
Since then, the rapid technological changes taking place within Ghana and across Africa have continued to evolve approaches to banking. In March 2009, MTN Uganda launched its own banking solution MobileMoney, a year on 600,000 Ugandans had signed up. Today the service has attracted 1.6 million users, reaching 85% of the population. MobileMoney units are located across the country and housed within distinctive canary-yellow buildings and kiosks.
But there are multiple interpretations of mobile. Mobile phones may allow for one off electronic payments to be made, but what about deposits and business banking? ECR Retail Systems has been operating in Ghana since 2011 taking the mobile revolution to the next level, focusing on delivering solutions which put the emphasis on customer service and help businesses fulfil their potential by providing them with optimum transparency and traceability.
In August 2012, First National Bank, Ghana’s premier savings and loans bank (FNSL) – the only private bank with active working branches in each of the 12 regions of Ghana – deployed ECR’s handheld mobile point of sale (MPoS) solution.
The First National solution equips agents on the ground with an ECR XPDA – a handheld terminal with on-board banking software, built-in printer, barcode scanner and GPRS connectivity. This not only speeds up the collection of payments but reduces the admin costs and time required to audit and track payments. This tailored, computerised, mobile, revenue banking management system bypasses issues with connectivity on mobile phones whilst legitimising the banking processes for small business, and individuals looking to deposit monies.
Previously, unless Africans deposited the money at a bank in person, there was no way of legitimising the transaction process; you had to rely on the collectors to deposit the cash on your behalf. Now, thanks to the introduction of mobile technology, customers making a deposit can rely on the convenience and trustworthiness of handing over money at their home or small business with the certainty that the transaction has been made securely and reliably. By being issued with a receipt instantly, the transaction is legitimised at the point of contact. This not only improves security but reduces the cost of monetary collections across Ghana and has increased confidence in the technology of the doorstep banking concept.
Amma Korang, Vegetables Trader, Makola No.1 Market hails the technology as a major breakthrough. “The new machines give traders confidence that the money collected is actually going into our accounts, as we can see for ourselves our account details being brought up on the computer.”
The software provides First National branch managers with real-time updates of all the revenues being collected on the ground, too. As a result, First National staff can now concentrate on managing their employees’ performance more closely, as the need to spend hours reconciling client accounts have been removed. The new system has also dramatically reduced the number of daily inconsistencies surrounding collected amounts. This has been a key factor in helping the company to forecast accurately.
“The ECR revenue management system has enabled the bank to get full visibility of our operations and customers,” explains Hilda Nkansah, Relationship Manager, First National Bank. “Now our mobilisers all insist on using the terminal because of the speed and ease of use.”
African countries have currently allocated considerably less spectrum to mobile services than Europe, the Americas and Asia. As a result connectivity in rural areas of Africa is largely restricted. Additional spectrum is therefore needed to help create a catalyst for future growth and to advance the banking evolution across the continent. Mobile technology is key to this growth but the banking evolution in Africa is multi-faceted. Mobile phones may have revolutionised the way of life of the African population, but when it comes to mobile banking there are a variety of technologies circulating which each provide precise services and levels of connectivity and functionality. The future of banking in Africa will depend on how the major banks and their customers respond and embrace these new technologies. However, perhaps the biggest consideration is how both parties manage the impact of mass mobile penetration.