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.

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