Heads of Mobile Commerce departments of three telecom operators doing Money Commerce in Ghana have expressed the need for government and the regulators to get actively involved and push the public awareness campaign for the wider acceptance and use of Mobile Money as a major means of transaction over cash.
The telco executives think the 99.7% mobile penetration in Ghana, makes Mobile Money a key driver to the expected cashless or cashlite society that government is seeking to take the Ghanaian economy to, and that is enough reason for government and the regulator to play a leading role in public education about Mobile Money.
They say Mobile Money requires a massive multi-approach public education on a scale that is too expensive for any individual telco to bear so it behooves the regulators, Bank of Ghana (BOG), the National Communication Authority (NCA), and government to drive it ‘aggressively’ as part of march towards a cashless society.
The telcos have proposed government and regulator support in the form of massive and regular endorsements, encouragement of state agencies to use Mobile Money for small payments, augmentation of funding for the public awareness campaign, and garnering of media support for same.
There are three Mobile Money services in Ghana: MTN Mobile Money, Airtel Money and Tigo Cash. The services range from airtime purchase, peer-to-peer money transfer, bulk payment, bill/fees payment, shopping on and offline, payment in restaurants, insurance services and a bevy of mobile banking services.
Mobile Money promises convenience, safety, security and affordability in the movement of money across the country.
But a recent research by Ericsson on Mobile Money in Ghana and two other countries (South Africa and Tanzania) indicated that in spite of the high penetration of mobile subscriptions and all the mobile money promises, only about 9% of mobile phone users in Ghana had Mobile Money accounts between 2011 and 2012.
The rate has since increased to 16.5% (over 4.1 million), out of which market leader MTN boasts of 2 million customers, followed by Tigo with around 1.2million on Tigo Cash, and Airtel with 900,000 Airtel Money customers.
But in terms of actual usage, Tigo is talking of only 13% of its Tigo Cash customers being active; MTN says 100,000 are active, and Airtel says it records 18,000 activities on daily basis.
MTN is recording 1.5 million Mobile Money transactions worth over GHC50 million every month; Tigo talks of between five and six transactions a month by each of its 13% active Tigo Cash subscribers, and that is worth some GHC11 million electronic money moving daily on its platform; and Airtel is also reporting over GHC4 million floating on the Airtel Money platform at any point in time.
Those were all moneys that would have been moved in the form of cash with all the attendant risks and inconveniences.
Meanwhile Vodafone Ghana has also hinted it would launch Mobile Money this year, but it is barely seven weeks to the end of the year, and it is still not clear if the launch would happen before the close of the year.
The relatively low acceptability and use of Mobile Money has been attributed to misconceptions about the impact of network quality on the reliability of the services, plus the perceived ‘cumbersome’ SMS-based registration for the service, non-interoperability of the respective platforms, and the cost involved in using the service as compared with holding one’s cash for transactions. People also suspect, without evidence, that there are hidden charges.
The individual telcos, have been doing their own education and promotional campaigns about Mobile Money to drive home its relative reliability, safety, security, convenience and cost-effectiveness, but the penetration level shows not much has been achieved.
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Head of Mobile Commerce at Airtel Ghana, Martison Obeng-Agyei said the cost of a large-scale multi-approach public education about Mobile Money is too gargantuan for each telco to bear so it has become necessary for the government and its respective agencies to consolidate and complement the strengths of the telcos, and drive the campaign.
“If government really wants us to have a cashless society then government and its respective agencies would have to drive Mobile Money aggressively because Mobile Money is already moving the economy in that direction.
“Airtel is already doing nationwide multi-approach education on Mobile Money to disabuse people’s minds of the misconceptions about Mobile Money and drive acceptability and usage, but every advert about Mobile Money attracts commercial rate in the media and that is heavy on telcos so it is time government came on board and get media support at a more affordable rate for public education,” he said.
He said so far the telcos have been discussing how to jointly undertake a public education about Mobile Money, but no concrete steps have been put in place yet to drive that common effort.
Head of MTN Mobile Money, Eli Hini concurred with his counterpart at Airtel, saying Mobile Money needs a huge nationwide push and that is an expensive venture that requires the regulator’s and government’s input by way of encouraging public sector institutions to use the service to make over-the-counter payments and other small payments within the public sector.
“Government must firstly encourage its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to start using mobile money for payments such as national service allowances, National Youth Employment wages, over the counter payment to labourers on government projects, pension allowances, agric extension officers’ allowances and several other bulk payments of small amounts,” he said.
Hini also wants the regulator and government to be chief advocates of Mobile Money because it would also save Ghana money on printing of currency notes, and on movement of cash around, both by individual citizens and by BOG and banks in bullion vans.
Sections of the media sourcing the strong room of the BOG, recently reported it cost the country GHC30million to print the new GHC50 notes, and Hini argues that some of that money, plus the huge sums used in maintaining the cedi notes could be saved if government encouraged the use of Mobile Money over cash.
“When you transfer money electronically you also avoid the risk of armed robbery attacks and even pilfering that may occur in transit, so you are sure of getting the full value of the money from end-to-end,” he said.
Head of Mobile Finance at Tigo Ghana, Selorm Adadevoh agrees with the need for government involvement but thinks that should only be up to endorsement of Mobile Money as a first choice for financial transaction, but not for government to necessarily fund and lead the public education campaign.
Adadevoh however thinks government endorsement of Mobile Money as a safe, secure, reliable and convenient means of financial transaction is also necessary to disabuse people’s minds about mobile money.
“Till date people think it is just the telcos doing their own thing – they are not aware that Mobile Money is bank-led and is regulated by the state. I think it is about time the government institutions involved with mobile money came out to endorse it and tell other government institutions to use it so that it can grow and accelerate Ghana’s march towards a cashless economy,” he said.
The three telcos doing mobile money wield an aggregate of over 18 million mobile phone subscriptions, representing whopping 73% of mobile penetration in Ghana. Together with Vodafone, which has an additional 5 million plus subscribers and is about to start Mobile Money soon, they provide a huge platform to propel Ghana to the expected cashless society.