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Mobile networks holding back financial inclusion

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Out of 7.5 billion mobile users, two billion adults worldwide are unbanked. Although banking institutions offer solutions to bridge the gap, little impact is being achieved on the number of unbanked, says BRIAN RICHARDSON, founder of WIZZIT.

Financial inclusion is a key enabler of sustainable economic and social development. Initiatives by the United Nations and the World Bank Group continue to drive financial inclusion and it has become a priority for regulators and policymakers worldwide.

Out of 7.5 billion people and a mobile phone in almost every pocket, two billion adults worldwide are unbanked. Financial service providers (FSPs), FinTech’s and mobile network operators (MNOs) offer superior solutions to bridge the gap. However, despite the size, reach and power of banks and MNOs, little impact is being achieved on the number of unbanked.

Regulation is often blamed as a major barrier. What doesn’t help either are statements from European Central Bank executive board member Yves Mersch, who has given a spirited defence of cash, praising its ability to facilitate privacy, equality and security, insisting there is “no viable alternative”.

Digitalisation is the key to financial inclusion. Basic transactional accounts should be a birth right, together with a concerted effort by governments to remove cash and to support every effort towards financial inclusion. Illegal and illicit activities such as money laundering and funding of terrorist activities are facilitated predominantly through cash. The sooner we accept this fact, the better. What is urgently required is the removal of cash and the enforcement of policies that promote simple and seamless access to bank accounts for all. This provides full audit trails of every single transaction.

MNO’s have the reach and understand the power of marketing. Banks understand compliance and systems. As a leading global FinTech, WIZZIT International works effectively with all leading MNOs and banks in providing digital financial services. However, instead of embracing mutually beneficial partnerships, MNOs in some countries refuse to give banks access to their Unstructured Supplementary Service Data or USSD gateways.

The bulk of mobile phones in Africa are feature phones and the USSD channel provides functionality that is quick, safe and easily accessible from all mobile phones. For the vast majority, USSD will remain the clear channel of choice for many years to come. To date, it is the most successfully integrated and widely adopted technology for financial services in emerging markets and the lower end of the market.

MNOs in some countries seem to think that by denying banks access, they can create a bigger market for their own financial service offerings. This is most evident in countries like Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo where the unbanked populations are 71% and 89% respectively. This abuse of power is tantamount to anti-competitive behaviour and is creating a major barrier to financial inclusion, something communication regulators should be aware of. The lack of progress in these and other emerging markets may well be the result of the prejudiced practices of Telcos gatekeeping access to the USSD gateway.

As smart phones become more affordable, so will the popularity of app-powered platforms as a channel for financial services. However, until there is a dramatic decrease in the cost of smart phones, the number of feature phones will remain at around 70%. USSD is still therefore critically important and banks will depend on MNOs for access – unless as has happened in some markets, banks get their own MNVO licence and control their own destiny.

A bigger pie or a bigger slice? 

The boundaries between the offerings of banks and MNOs are becoming increasingly blurred – yet the playing fields are not level. In some West African countries, for example, banks are by law not allowed to charge customers for deposits to bank accounts. MNOs, however, are unaffected by these laws and have the freedom to charge for deposits into mobile wallets.

Starting out as a convenient way to buy airtime and send money to family and friends, the financial services offering of MNOs has broadened to include offerings such as savings and loans. This is taking the banks on directly.

It will be argued that banks cannot be all things to all people and effectively service all segments of the market. It will also be argued that bank regulators are not there to protect banks from innovative competition from non-banks such as MNOs, Apple, Samsung, Google, Amazon, Pay Pal and Alipay. However, where governments and global agencies are putting enormous pressure on banks to drive financial inclusion, this is made increasingly difficult where banks are denied access to channels such as USSD.

To collaborate or not to collaborate

The Mobile Banking industry globally started some 12 years ago with WIZZIT (South Africa), Mpesa (Kenya) and GCash (Philippines) recognised as the early pioneers. It is interesting to note that there has not been a single successful partnership between banks and MNOs despite numerous attempts.

Perhaps a truly strategic collaborative model is still a ways off and competition between banks and MNOs is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. The question is whether or not this competition is supporting global efforts on financial inclusion through digital financial services.

The way forward

Digitisation and mobile penetration will continue to drive the growing trend of MNOs and FSPs infiltrating each other’s space to gain traction in new services. However, these rapidly blurring lines are bound to spark territorial claims regarding customers. This could impede financial inclusion if it lacks the required consumer protection measures and regulations.

Governments must regulate competitive behaviour amongst all role players and promote cross-sector collaboration towards financial inclusion. It is essential for countries to enforce policies that promote responsible financial access, financial capability, innovative products and delivery mechanisms. Any initiative that promotes financial inclusion should be praised and much work needs to be done.

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It’s printing, Jim, but not as we know it

Selling printing services is not only about the hardware anymore, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The seminal science fiction series Star Trek generated many catch-lines, like “The Prime Directive” and “Live long and prosper”. One of its most parodied lines, however, is Doctor Bones McCoy’s words to Captain Kirk on encountering an alien species: “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.”

That’s exactly the way one could describe the printer industry today. Every time an HP, Epson or Konica Minolta releases a new machine for this sector, one can sense the puzzled frowns of people taken by surprise that it still exists.

The difference is that it has evolved from a focus on paper to an emphasis on document management.

One of the first companies to spot that shift in the market, Japanese-headquartered Konica-Minolta, pioneered the concept of a dedicated printer company introducing its own software development division.

“We’ve always believed our role is solving problems for the customer, and not just to provide print, copy and scan solutions,” says Marc Pillay, CEO of the company’s South African division. “Our primary focus is multi-functional devices, but we always look at adding value to clients. Our real job is to assist in achieving a better return on investment.”

The proof of the pudding is that the local division is one of the biggest Konica-Minolta distributors in the world. The reason is simple: unlike most other countries, the South African operation has both a direct and indirect channel. That means it is able to supply companies through its reseller network, while also having a presence on the ground in the form of a dealer network across the country. That, in turn, has given it access to municipalities and other organs of state.

“Our value proposition is based on quality products, service and an unparalleled supply chain,” says Pillay. “When everyone was afraid to do business with government, we thrived on it. It comes from being located in areas where it’s easy to do business with us.”

One could call that the secret of success for existing demand. The coming era, however, will require an appreciation of the next big shifts in printing, says Pillay.

“We’ve seen the big shifts from analog to digital, from monochrome to colour, and from decentralisation to centralisation of printing. The next shift is unbundling printing into a hybrid approach, using both cloud and managed solutions. It’s all going to become subscription-based, and it will be print-on-demand. The high-end customers go into that very quickly, but we still have to cater for people who just do copying.”

Pillay believes that the opening of Microsoft’s Azure data centres in South Africa in March has already made a difference.

“Now you can scan from a device into Microsoft’s SharePoint online or Google Drive. It’s not about screen size anymore, but what you can do to make an impact.”

Where people don’t print, says Pillay, they’re absorbing documents digitally.

“We have to make sure that, where we lose the print, we are gaining the management of the scan, digitisation of the document or management of the workflow. Our income will come out of the workflow.

“Clearly, we’re not just focused on selling a piece of hardware anymore.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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SA chooses most loved local businesses

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A new World Wide Worx research report identifies and names South Africa’s 12 Most Loved Local businesses, and places the spotlight on the vital role commercial businesses play in the South African economy. The country’s favourite local businesses include the Chapman’s Peak Hotel in Hout Bay – famed for its calamari, celebrity chef David Higgs’ Rosebank eatery Marble as well as Rouge Day Spa with branches in Kenilworth and Constantia in Cape Town run by a dynamic mother and daughter duo.

The aim of the Most Loved Local report was to celebrate those businesses South Africans love the most and to investigate exactly what makes consumers big fans of these entities. It further offers these enterprises insights into what it takes to succeed in business, highlights the qualities that convert clients into fans and encourages more South Africans to ‘shop’ local.

Report results

Commissioned by Santam, results were compiled using a combination of digital listening tools and traditional research. Social media listening using organic search analysis looked into which business categories were being searched for most. This was followed up with a trend analysis to assess whether a business category was growing in popularity, keyword volume analysis to refine the categories and finally social listening within the categories which businesses were being spoken about in the most positive terms. Thereafter, a poll was conducted among 2 489 respondents to find out what made them love a local business – or not. The sample was nationally representative and aligned to the economically active population per province. A respected independent research house World Wide Worx conducted the research.

The full list of businesses that came top across 12 categories are:

  1. Place to Stay: Chapmans Peak Hotel (Cape Town) – the one with the perfect calamari
  2. Eatery: Marble (Johannesburg) – the one with the celebrity chef in the kitchen
  3. Butcher: The Butcher Man (Cape Town) – the one that people cross town for
  4. Bakery: Fournos (Johannesburg) – the one that is way more than a bakery
  5. Spa: Rouge Day Spa (Cape Town) – the one run by a dynamic mother-daughter team
  6. Entertainment Spot: Gold Reef City (Johannesburg)  – the one with the heart of gold
  7. Gym: Dream Body Fitness (Johannesburg) – the one that is completely unintimidating to work out at
  8. Interior Designer: By Dezign Interiors (Johannesburg) – the one that really, really gets its clients’ style
  9. Market: Bryanston Organic & Natural Market (Johannesburg) – the one that was an organic market before it was trendy to be an organic market
  10. Laundromat: Exclusive Dry Cleaners (Johannesburg) – the one that treats every single client like family
  11. Car Wash: Tubbs’s Car Wash (Johannesburg) – the one that cleans your car while you have a haircut
  12. Construction company: Radon Projects (Pretoria) – the one that is ready all day and all night

Delving into what makes a consumer go from ‘client to fan’, the key factor standing out above all others was service. Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx, says it seems South Africans will forgive a multitude of ‘sins’ if they are treated well. “Good service was the number one factor that makes 40% of those surveyed support a local business. This was followed by quality products at 18%. Third place went to value for money at 10%, proving the old adage that competing on price alone is not a sound business strategy,” said Goldstuck.

When asked what makes them loyal to a local business, some interesting views across age groups emerged. “Younger clients are more swayed by quality, while older ones are impressed by service. This seems to fit with younger people wanting the status of nice things, and older people wanting to feel valued and respected,” said Goldstuck.

Unsurprisingly, all 12 Most Loved Locals called out service as one of their guiding lights and core pillars when interviewed. Theo and George Parpottas, owners of Exclusive Dry Cleaners, the selected company in the laundromat category, believe when someone walks into their shop, they should be greeted with smiling faces and courteous people. “We don’t care if it’s the president or a beggar, from the moment they walk in, they are a client. We greet them, we are courteous, and we treat them with respect. It doesn’t matter what they bring.”

For Gary Karycou, who co-owns Marble in Rosebank with celebrity chef David Higgs, it is all about attitude. “You can teach someone anything if they want to do it, but we employ on attitude. You get the basic skills but if someone really wants to learn, you can transform them.” He continues, “Giving the best service to our clients, is our motto. It’s something that’s lacking in South Africa and even globally. Businesses just become a bit complacent.”

Famed Green Point butchery and restaurant, The Butcher Man, is owned by Arie Fabiani. He says people will drive past other butcheries and come all the way to the Butcher Man because “we deliver a great service. Good service is critical, and our team knows it.”

Another key finding was that people are more likely to recommend a business if there is a good deal or excellent value for money. Mokaedi Dilotsotlhe, Chief Marketing Officer at Santam, says this is an interesting finding. “Perhaps we are more likely to share a good deal with others and keen to help others find great nuggets of the positive trade-off between value and price. So, it is worth ensuring that, in addition to service and quality, your clients feel like they are getting value for the money they spend with you. That way, they are more likely to tell family and friends the good news!”

Dilotsotlhe added that the report’s release has been well-timed as the need to stimulate sectors of the economy which can create jobs has never been more vital. Commercial enterprises are responsible for a significant percentage of the labour-force in South Africa, and the impact thereof is significant. Due to the fact that these enterprises remain a largely underinsured sector, the campaign also seeks to highlight the need for insurance as a vital aspect of business continuity. When they thrive, it benefits the whole nation, and from a Santam perspective, this translates into sustainable growth for our business.

To download the full report, click here.

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