Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crew member of a very exciting ship

My name is Juanita Schrader, about 8 months ago I became part of the accounts team of Mobile Transactions South Africa offices. I can safely say that I had no clue what I was getting myself into (I mean this in a good way LOL).

I am one of three finance administrators, the other two being Marissa Kruger and Charlton Meavers . We report to the Accountant Leshain Armstrong. In a nutshell, our duties consist of ensuring that all activities like send to banks, deposits, auto bank postings, etc are processed correctly to the banks and the system with the help of the customer care personnel Tasira Nkhata who works from the Zambia office. One of my responsibilities is to ensure that various accounts have adequate balances for these activities to happen. My other major responsibility is called the daily system and bank reconciliation. This is done daily and reconciles transactions on the banks and the system. If there are any discrepancies; then it is investigated. It is really a team effort. We work together, help each other to investigate and resolve queries and give feedback to customer care. Our work is very customer care orientated and at times can be very challenging as it would be in any other business. It is a difficult concept to grasp at times if you have not visited Zambia and seen the agents trading and doing business. When there are a challenges; we are in the spotlight and have all hands on deck to assist but when everything is smooth sailing then we give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done.

We also provide services internally to other departments. E.g. purchase of bulk airtime, sending funds to work accounts, making payments as requested, assisting with analysis for month end processing on pastel.

This is not your ordinary 8-5 admin job. We have a very structured day and timelines for doing send to banks and checking deposits. We are involved in decision making and improving of procedure and processes which is great to know that you can make a contribution that can have an impact. It’s also pretty awesome; this is my first real job and I can truly say that these are the foundations of my career in finance. Just the other day, we imported and approved our first 1000th automated Barclays’ batch and it felt fantastic to be part of such an achievement!

The IT Department and Accounting department are located in SA office. We recently moved into a bigger office which just goes to show we are growing .We are quite a young group of people which makes it an energetic and fun environment.

It is also a blessing to know that you have a job where you have a reason to wake up and say “oh yes I’m going to work” and not “oh work again”. So here’s to more growth personally and professionally as this ship continues on its journey to success!!

By Juanita Schrader

Finance administrator

Friday, July 8, 2011

A new type of agent

We’ve decided to try to create a new model of MTZ agent. I’m sure the idea has been done in other industries before, but it’ll be a first for us.

Outside of the Champion Agents that we directly manage, we picture that there are two types of new agents out there: those that have money but no time or inclination to manage a shop; and those that have time to manage a shop, but no money. In this post I want to tell you about our idea for the first group.

To date we’ve been approached by probably a half-dozen Zambian business men and women always asking the same thing: “I have some money, so how can I become one of your agents?” And our approach was always the same: “Here’s the contract, and here’s how much money you need, and here’s how you can check your statement, do your daily cash reconciliation, and get customer care support if you need help.”

But we’ve realized that this message is absolutely inadequate. These are businesspeople with money and multiple businesses already. They have no time. No time for customer care, or statements, or daily cash reconciliation processes. Our system isn’t difficult to master, but it does require a fair amount of ongoing oversight.

Because of these facts of the business, the end result for these potential agents has always been the same: they sign up, they put in the money, they get a manager or a niece or nephew to run the shop, then within a month or so the money is lost/stolen/unaccounted for and they close up shop.

So we thought of something different. What if all these people had to do was put in their money and we provided all the day-to-day management by training a person at head office and giving them a percentage of the revenue? We’d share the revenue earned from commission, with the outcome being the businessperson gets a steady stream of income and we get a new, liquid agent.

We’re going to try it in Kitwe, a Copperbelt mining town. For us who are always tight on cash, it’s a way to free up a lot of untapped capital and grow the liquidity of our network. But also, the businesspeople that may invest also know of other business opportunities and could open new doors for our agents. If we can generate a healthy and low-risk return for businesspeople keen to invest their money, then it could be a way for us to use the age-old owner-manager dynamic to grow our agent network much faster and further.

Graham Lettner,

Agent Manager.

Monday, June 13, 2011

e-Vouchers: Transforming Local Economies

A woman and her malnourished child walk to their local grocery shop to redeem a food voucher she received at the nearby government clinic. The grocer exchanges the voucher for a food basket containing locally produced and milled maize meal, the country’s staple food. The small-scale farmers who grew the maize bought their seeds and fertilizer from rural retailers, who were, in turn, subsidized by a local organization promoting sustainable agriculture. And all the seamless transactions in this localized economic ecosystem were made possible by a simple but transformational technology – electronic vouchers.

Zambia is a country of 12 million people in the heart of southern Africa. It is characterized by low population density, high poverty rates, and political stability. 70% of Zambians live in rural areas, 60% are engaged in agriculture, and 15% are affected by HIV/AIDS. Zambia is by all accounts one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 150 out of 169 on the 2010 UN Human Development Index.

As such, Zambia is on the receiving end of millions of dollars of aid, and vouchers are becoming the preferred method of delivering it. Vouchers allow beneficiaries to become customers, giving them the power to choose and demand what they need from local retailers instead of receiving items that are shipped from half a world away. The idea behind vouchers works well in theory, but it has had problems on the ground. Paper vouchers result in long, bureaucratic paper trails. Retailers complain of delayed payments and donors of forgery, fraud, and a general lack of accountability.

Mobile Transactions Zambia Limited (MTZ) pioneered an e-voucher product in September 2009 as a cost-effective way for both development sector and government clients to deliver traceable subsidies to their intended recipients. The technology is simple: A scratch card with a unique serial number is given to a targeted beneficiary by a local institution, such as a clinic or farmer group.To ensure security, the vouchers are linked to individuals by their National Registration Card number. Once linked, they can be redeemed at retail agents chosen by the client. The agent processes the voucher by accessing MTZ’s online platform using a mobile phone, triggering an instant electronic payment into the agent’s MTZ account for the value of the goods given out, with a profit margin reflecting prevailing market prices. The agent can then use this electronic credit to order from suppliers, sell airtime, send money transfers, send it to a designated bank account, or access mobile banking services that MTZ’s other business units offer.

The e-voucher business model is driven by a set fee charged per e-voucher redeemed. This means that the e-voucher system is not economic at small volumes because of the management and system development costs of its delivery. Thus, MTZ has focused on improving the efficiency of its e-voucher delivery to reduce overhead costs per e-voucher and allow the company to effectively scale with more clients thus increasing total e-voucher numbers. The e-voucher business unit will be financially viable when it serves enough beneficiaries to cover costs and provide a stable profit margin.

To date, MTZ has redeemed 280,000 e-vouchers for almost 60,000 beneficiaries in Zambia. Our clients include the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Conservation Farming Unit, and CARE International. Our partners include government clinics and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The e-voucher system has already been replicated across sectors – both food and agricultural inputs – with future expansion planned into health (delivery of subsidized drugs, such as anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS patients) and welfare (social cash transfers targeted at the poorest 10% of the population). It has also scaled regionally, with food vouchers redeemed in Zimbabwe since June 2010 and Mozambique since March 2011.

The social and economic impact of this product is enormous. Firstly, e-vouchers irrefutably improve the cost-effectiveness of current aid projects. One of our customers has reported 40% cost savings over conventional methods of distributing aid with greatly reduced inventory reconciliation issues. At a time when aid is under fire for being ineffective and inefficient this is great news and it has been recognized as such by donors, small businesses, and beneficiaries alike.

Secondly – and most significantly - e-vouchers create a series of positive knock-on effects in the local economy and community. Aid agencies disappear into the background as local businesses become the face of product and service delivery. MTZ works almost exclusively with small businesses that are stalwart members of the community in order to ensure confidence and trust in the e-voucher. Relationships are strengthened between farmers, millers, retailers, government agencies, and the end customers as much-needed welfare is delivered to the community by the community itself. Instead of being undermined by conventional methods of development, the local economy thrives.

E-vouchers are a winning product in Zambia, but introducing them has not been without its challenges. Pricing the vouchers has been difficult from the beginning as clients did not immediately understand the size of the management and system development costs required to make the e-voucher system work. It was also difficult to maintain a steady stream of clients because of the transient nature of donor projects. It has taken time for MTZ to develop management processes that can scale-up and scale-down quickly and efficiently as voucher numbers fluctuate. However, with several proof-of-concept projects under their belt, MTZ is now developing a standard package, complete with flexible and customizable system features and back-end management practices, to take this to scale.

e-Vouchers enable aid agencies to drastically improve health, welfare, environmental, and livelihood outcomes in marginalized communities; they stimulate localized economic activity by working with local businesses and through local channels; and, they generate revenue for a company that is extending mobile banking services to those who need them most – the unbanked and unconnected. They are a cutting-edge product that will transform economies all over Africa.

This blog was submitted for the BOP competition and made it to the final round. It was written by: Thulasy Balasubramaniam and Graham Lettner

Monday, May 30, 2011

Hellenah Mwansa: Champion Agent

My job involves selecting and training 20-something Zambians to start their own money transfer franchises in different towns all across the country. We call them our Champion Agents.

Hellenah Mwansa is one of these young agents I’m very proud of. She finished our training course in April and we promptly sent her up to Ndola, 400km north of Lusaka where she had been living, with instructions to find a location, set up a portable booth that she’d pick up at a town along the way, and start transacting.

But just two weeks into her new job she fell sick. Malaria, most likely. While she went to a health clinic and began treatment almost immediately, she was still almost completely incapacitated. Bedridden for a week, maybe more. During all of this all she asked me for was $10 to buy the vitamins and fruit juice the health clinic recommended she take.

Yet this past week when I drove up to visit her and a few of our other agents, she was cheerful, smiling, and had her shop back on track. She had arranged a deal with the manager of the YMCA to rent some space from her for her shop; had hired a girl, Linda, as her store assistant; and was out for the better part of the day handing out flyers to potential customers around town.

Almost all of our new agents are 20-somethings like Hellenah. They are who our company (Mobile Transactions Zambia; MTZ) will rely on to be the backbone of our network of financial transactions in Zambia.

Graham Lettner,
Agent Manager.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Passion, Pride, Pace and Professionalism

It’s quite strange to think that less than 30 days ago I was working in a small town in Wales called Bedwas managing a large scale Welsh Government project subsidising Leadership and Management training for Small and Medium Sized businesses.Since first stepping into the old, cramped Cairo Road office I have been struck by the pace, enthusiasm and stretch of the work of Mobile Transactions. 16 working days into my short experience I have already developed and agreed a project plan aiming to pay 22,000 East Zambian Farmers with e-vouchers, braved the bus to Chipata and negotiated with almost 20 Zambian businesses.

There’s been a great deal that I have had to learn. As Brad puts it, there are no safety nets working for a start up business. Most tasks need to be undertaken independently – the processes and expert services of my corporate background simply do not exist. When I walk into a room with Zambia’s primary retailers of school books, or one of the biggest fertiliser importers, I have to rely on my own preparation and ability to present a competent and coherent proposition.

The opportunity is hugely rewarding for me and I don’t think I’m alone. I have seen all of MTZ’s people pushing themselves out of their comfort zone to develop new systems, strike new payments deals and forge a strong and stable agent network. When I return to work for Government, I hope that I will adopt this brave spirit and demand even greater hunger and accountability to do the work we do from those around me.

So what’s useful from the Welsh Government that MTZ can adopt? 16 days in, it’s a completely impossible assessment to try to make. However one issue might be that MTZ’s strengths could also be it’s weaknesses as it moves forward. Always stretching ourselves should not lead to over promising. A fast pace must not mean sacrificing support, when that is needed. Enthusiasm must not lead to burning out.

That’s why Mike’s plan for the company and the ambition to develop a coherent structure for MTZ’s work is absolutely crucial. Good governance and support structures shouldn’t stifle and can provide a framework that means that a business isn’t always out of its comfort zone. This means discipline, and will usually mean some changes. The best ideas come from all parts of businesses so there must be a space for people to share and debate them confidently and openly.

The Civil Service’s motto in the UK is Passion, Pride, Pace and Professionalism. MTZ absolutely embody these qualities. The challenge now is to enshrine these in a framework for a very bright future.

By The Welsh Civil Servant,

Tom Taylor.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Playing both sides

I was in Kenya earlier this month attending a Grassroots Business Fund regional workshop. While I was there, I took a couple extra days to skulk around Kibera market and travel out to Kisumu on Lake Victoria all in the name of seeing M-PESA agents as work. Being the most successful mobile banking market in the world, there was lots to learn from them.

In Kisumu I met Victor, PEP Intermedius’ agent manager, who graciously spent the entire morning fielding my questions and querying me with some of his own. Their operation is more fluid and established than ours, and the number of agents PEP manages (150, just 1% of all agents in Kenya) is equal to the total number of agents we have across Zambia.

What shows just how different the Kenyan mobile payments market is to Zambia’s is that PEP is just one of dozens of companies that manage agents for M-PESA. Here in Zambia, there’s only us. We manage 100% of all the agents in Zambia. In effect, we’re both PEP and M-PESA at the same time: we manage the agents and we run the mobile payments system.

It makes for a lot of work, and unfortunately less single-mindedness in our business goals, but it also offers a lot of opportunity. Instead of a tug-of-war between M-PESA and the companies managing agents, we can try to find a optimal balance between our mobile payments business system and our on-the-ground agent network. Hopefully it’s something that we’ll be able to use to our continuing advantage as the Zambian market develops.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mobile Transactions hits Two

Last week Mobile Transactions turned two years old after doing our first money transfer on April 1, 2009. Since then, we have achieved the following:

· -142,333 money transfers worth 41.7 Billion Kwacha; I remember at one point starring at the customer care computer screen, waiting for Money transfer number 100 in a single day, and when we hit it, we jumped for joy.

· -Over 300,000 e-vouchers worth over $6 million with transactions across 30 districts with the World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organisation, and Conservation Farming Unit.

· -10 Champion agents and 120 regular cash agents, the first Agent to ever be set up was Nato investments in Mazabuka, it was set up on the 29th of March 2009 by our IT Support & Business Intelligence Manager Binoy George, Also Known As ‘employee number 3,’ and then Human resource manager Joseph Gondwe, we went on to set up 129 more.

· -24 staff across two offices, we are diverse team that is passionate about connecting the unbanked to financial services and driven to succeed

· -Best Mobile Start-Up in Africa,

· -$1.7 million of Dunavant cotton farmer payments

· -$500,000 in unbanked microfinance loan disbursements paid out through our agents

· -$1.5 million in banked payments

· -Successful launch of our supplier payments product with two milling companies and a dozen retail agents

There are many more achievements and I could go on and on. As we explore Thanks to everyone for their hard work and commitment to date, and join me in wishing Mobile Transactions a very belated Happy Birthday!!!

Memory Chirwa,

Brand Manager

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Zoona Kwacha is born

The Evolution of the first ever Mobile Transactions champion store on Cairo road Lusaka. On the far left, sales generators hand out flyers at the then white Cairo shop, center GBF's Sara Tylor strikes a pose at our ever so popular Cairo store. Below, Agent manager Graham Lettner (right) talks to store owner, Champion Agent Tresphold Mwango(Left)

The branding and re-branding processes would not go as smoothly without the full backing and support of our CEO Mike Quinn, seen here applying the first coat at our second shop along Cairo road,Lusaka. The result can be seen on the far right.

Katondo champion, on the left and center, works in progress and the final product at the bottom left.

Kitwe and Ndola champions are different from all our other champions as they are made of glass, see before and after pictures.

Zoona Kwacha is a combination of two words, Zoona meaning true or real and Kwacha meaning morning and the currency of Zambia. We combined these two words to come up with the word Zoona Kwacha which when translated in English means the ''The real Kwacha.'' To us the real Kwacha explains what we do which is to make people see the real value of their Kwacha when they transact with us.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A New Era

My name is Michael Bwalya, I am the Ordering and Supplier Payments Sales Assistant.Since December 2010, Mobile Transactions had been developing an online ordering system that allows retailers to order products from suppliers. Initially retailers needed to have internet access on their premises, or needed the direct help of Mobile transactions field staff who carried laptops and wireless moderns to facilitate the transaction or on occasion they had to go to internet cafes. This posed obvious challenges on all the parties involved, however February 2, 2011 marked the dawn of a new era when the service was introduced and could be accessed on any WAP enabled mobile phone and the first transaction of this nature in the history of this country was made when a retailer successfully ordered 200 bags of mealie meal. This might very well be the dawn of a new era for retailers and suppliers on the Zambian markets and a rather distinct step towards a cashless Africa.


The product has been well received on the Zambian market, the number of orders made on mobile phones has been rising since the first transaction last month, as noted by Thulasy Balasubramaniam, the product manager “the product saves retailers the trouble of running into town searching for the right price. The system makes market prices more transparent, reduces the risk of carrying cash in hand and for the suppliers the product and gives them access to new retailers”.

The product has so far been used by over 30 retailers in Lusaka and a little over 5 retailers on the Coppperbelt, and all these are World Food Program voucher retailers who are expected to redeem electronic vouchers at least twice every month and thus have access to electronic credit and can easily make orders. Further these retailers are guaranteed at least over 200 beneficiaries with electronic vouchers every month, and this enables them to make large volumes of orders on the system.

However the planned ending of the WFP voucher programme by WFP has posed a challenge for the retailers and the team (Kanji, Chris and I) Vouchers provided the retailers with the much needed electronic credit to facilitate the transaction, and provided a market for the retailers to make huge orders of mainly maizemeal for the WFP beneficiaries on the system. However even in the absence of the electronic vouchers we have had a dozen retailers who are willing to come into town and make deposits into their Zoona-Kwacha accounts so that they can be credited with electronic funds and make orders. Our challenge going forward is to implement a plan that will provide easy access to electronic credit , and further to capture retailers who may not be part of the WFP voucher program, show them the value of the service, and provide them with easy access to electronic credit.

As earlier mentioned the other challenge is to increase the volume of orders on the system especially now that the WFP voucher program has been suspended. This means providing retailers with as many products in the system as there are in their shops. One Wholesaler has so far been moving with our vision and has been supplying non WFP orders to Kanyama, Chawama, Kalingalinga Matero communities and other locations within Lusaka. The trick is to add more suppliers who are able to deliver to retailers and who stock fast moving consumable products.


As a member of the Mobile Transactions staff particularly of this team spearheading the sale of this product my vision is to see every product on the Zambian market that can be bought and sold be accessed on our system, a situation where our retailers can easily convert funds from there bank accounts into electronic credit on their Kwacha accounts only by the click of the button on there mobile phones and make orders with ease. This product has been launched on uncharted waters thus the limit should only be our lack of imagination.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mobile Transactions holds its first Award ceremony

The Mobile Transactions offices were buzzing with a lot of excitement because the CEO Mike Quinn had just announced that we had been crowned best Mobile Start up in Africa and that he was throwing a party to celebrate.

The celebration kicked off at 3:00 Pm and every one from the Zambian office showed up in full celebration mood. What they did not know was that Management had secretly planned to combine this timely event with its own Mobile Transactions Award ceremony.

The ceremony according to Mike was to award the most deserving employees and encourage them to work hard and reach Excellency. Two awards were handed out as follows:

The first award was ‘Employee of the year 2010’ which was scooped by Teddy sampa, who serves as the Deputy Agent manager, His role in agent management is integral as he operationalises service to agents, champion agents and money transfer customers. He also contributes to the continuous improvement of agent management systems and process and delivers agent training. Teddy has been with the organisation since February 2009, and since then he has given his all to the job.In his speech Teddy thanked Management for this important recognition.

‘’ I am very humbled to have received this award, It is ecause management believes in me and has given me a lot of opportunities to explore my capabilities.’’ Said Teddy.

The second award was ’Champion of the year 2010’’ which Michael Kapili Sakala received.

Michael has managed to set up four champion stores all by himself, he has been known to take a lot of initiative in running his business. He dedicated his award to fellow champion Agent Tresphold Mwango and the Customer Care department.

Mike Quinn declared the Mobile Transactions award ceremony as an annual event where deserving employees would be awarded for their hard work.

‘’We provide exciting opportunities for our employees to gain experience in an emerging industry and if you emulate Teddy and Michael, you will be rewarded.’’ Mike Quinn. CEO, Mobile Transactions.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Challenges of Customer Care

Hi my name is Tasira Nkhata; I am the lady behind the Customer care line. I have been working for Mobile Transactions since May 2010.

My role at Mobile Transactions is an interesting one; I am the lady who makes sure I put a smile on everyone’s face. Especially the agents and Customers, this is not always easy. So I take Graham’s advice (Graham is the Agent Manager) which is speak to a customer with a smile on your face and they will know you are smiling when talking to them and I think it has helped a lot.

I can’t say that I always make my customers happy because I always can’t do everything they ask of me. A practical example is when they ask me to give them the four digit PIN code which is meant to be a secret between the Sender and the Receiver. I in turn request that they get the PIN from the Sender and if the sender has forgotten the PIN they need to get back to the Agent. This makes the Sender very unhappy because they think I can see everything. What the customers do not understand is that the PIN code is a security PIN number which secures their money and therefore I have no way to view it.

The other challenge is that of the ‘Send to Bank’, a feature that allows Agents and customers to send money to any bank of their choice directly from their Zoona Kwacha Account. Agents want to come here and kill me when their Send to Bank is processed a minute or a second late. I believe the Accounts department gets sick and tired of my emails!

I believe I have the best job in the company reason being I speak to so many people that I have never met and they relate to me quite well. It was not like this in the beginning, the Agents were very unfriendly to me. This was one of the biggest challenges I faced as the new customer Care lady, it was requested of me to memorise every Agent’s name and numbers.

Customers overlook the importance of the 4 digit pin that they enter when doing a transaction I believe that all the Agents should educate the Customers on PIN security. The Marketing department has had posters made on the importance of the PIN.

The Agent network I believe has improved greatly from the time I came to date, Agents are now sending SMS to order the branding and Books, they also use SMS to give us feedback on our service.

With the fast growing rate of the agent network it is a sure bet we will be doing more transactions in weeks to come!

My last words are I would love to see everyone take time and walk to the customer care table and answer one or two calls or make a call to an Agent. We all need to show our Agents love!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Historic Moment for Mobile Transactions

On February 2, 2011, at 18:41pm ,a Mobile Transactions agent made an order AND paid for 200 bags of roller meal for a total value of K6,000,000 (USD$1250) using their mobile phone. This might very well be the first time anyone in Zambia has done anything like this. In two years time, when every retailer in Zambia is using their mobile phone to order from their suppliers and we are rolling this product out in new countries, this will be a historic event to look back on.

Starting in December, Mobile Transactions has been quietly developing a potentially transformational product. It's an online ordering and payments system that can be accessed on mobile phones. The idea is that retailers can log on to the system on their phones, search for the products they want - anything from cooking oil to bars of soap to fertilizers - and instantly make orders and payments using their Mobile Transactions account. Suppliers can add new products, update their pricing, and offer delivery/collection options to the retailers.

It's an online, cashless marketplace where everyone wins. Retailers save the hassle (and danger) of running around town with cash in hand, searching for the right price, making orders, and paying for transport to get the goods back to their shop. Suppliers get access to new retailers, have the opportunity to increase sales, and save on the huge risks involved with handling cash. Smaller retailers and suppliers, in particular, stand to gain a lot, as the system opens up the market and makes prices more transparent.

The vision for this product is a grand one, but the process of getting there will likely be more subtle. Our job is to build a complete solution for retailers and suppliers that is so good that they propagate it themselves. It's a bit like Facebook in that way - we want to create a product that initial clients gain more value from by bringing their current business contacts on board. Going viral, creating network effects, whatever you want to call, that's what we're aiming for.

We're at the early stages now, starting with a product that is ubiquitous in Zambia's urban economy - mealie meal, the country's staple food. From there, we hope to bring on basic household goods and agricultural inputs and eventually any product that can be bought and sold. The possibilities are endless but the challenge immense. Can this technology disrupt a cash-based economy? I think it can, if we get the product right, so that's the goal for right now.

Thulasy Balasubramaniam
Ordering and Supplier Payments System Manager