What do the new developments in the mobile money business mean for the industry

by Musa Hashim Kasibante
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According to statistics, mobile money has been a tremendous contributor and one of the biggest drivers of financial inclusion in Uganda.

By the second quarter of 2021, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) the telecom sector regulator revealed that mobile money agents had grown by 49,488 within a short span of only 24 months.

The UCC report also disclosed that between the second and third quarters of 2020, at least 8,500 new agents were added to the network.

This was in addition to over 227,736 mobile money agents who operate across different networks like Airtel Money, MTN Mobile Money and others.

There are several players in the mobile money industry in Uganda and East Africa.

As of 2021, there were seven mobile money schemes in Uganda, including MTN, Airtel, Uganda Telecom, Africell, M-cash, PayWay and Eeezy Money. But new players like Wave have joined the industry and others like SafeBoda are diversifying their product offering to include this service in their list.

But regardless of this increment in mobile money schemes, many mobile money agents have voiced complaints of reduced benefits from this line of trade,

Some agents say that their commissions have significantly been slashed by telecom companies for whom they work.

What agents refer to as Commission is the money that they are paid by the telecom company from every transaction made by a mobile money agent.

A case in point is, that if a customer goes to a mobile money shop and sends Ush100,000, the agent is entitled to earn a commission of about Ush1,000 off that transaction, which is paid periodically.

New entrants join the industry

In July 2022, SafeBoda launched a new update that allows money transfers to bank and mobile wallets.

This new development allows Safeboda’s customers to transfer money from their SafeBoda wallets to a preferred bank account or to a mobile money wallet like any of the existing ones.

According to pctechmag, the ride-hailing firm in July 2022 announced a new update to its app that will now allow its customers to transfer money from their SafeBoda wallet to the bank or to a mobile money wallet.

SafeBoda-Founders L-R Ricky Rapa Thomson, Maxime Dieudonne and Alastair Sussock at the launch in Kololo
SafeBoda Founders L-R Ricky Rapa Thomson, Maxime Dieudonne and Alastair Sussock at the launch in Kololo

The update comes four months after the e-transport company officially made its mobile money payment service available to the general public —joining a space dominated by telecoms.

“We believe that by making it cheaper and more convenient for our customers to move money between their SafeBoda wallets and other mobile money wallets & bank accounts, we will drive adoption and acceptance of cashless payments by informal economies such as mobility and informal merchants,” said Christian Wamambe Mayeku, Head of Financial Innovations at SafeBoda, in a recent media interview.

How agents are rewarded and taxation’s impact on their businesses

Mobile money agents earn commission from making deposits, helping clients to withdraw funds, buying airtime and paying bills for their customers.

MTN mobile money customers can make transactions using an Absa POS machine
MTN mobile money customers can make transactions using an Absa POS machine

In 2021, agents said their commissions reduced significantly after the introduction of the one percent tax on mobile money withdrawals in July of 2018. 

George William Nyombi, the chairperson of the Association of East African Mobile Money Traders Limited, says that although the mobile money tax was later reduced to 0.5%, this had already discouraged some agents who opted to abandon the business over reduced customer transactions which subsequently impacted their commissions in a negative way.

The union’s chairperson, Mr Nyombi noted that members of his association were unhappy with the commission paid by telecom companies, saying the telecoms ought to support mobile agent associations, “the same way the government supports sports associations.”

According to a Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) 2021 Quarter 3 report, the number of active mobile financial service agents grew by 11% from 285,371 in June 2021 to 315,895 by the end of September 2021.

 This positive trend in the industry reflects a sustained increase in business activity that is gradually positioning the mobile phone as a financial tool.

“Compared to 2020, the agent footprint across Uganda has grown by 39% and over 88,000 mobile money agents have been added to the distributed file system ecosystem over the last 12 months,” states the UCC report.

Ms Susan Akello, an agent operating in Gayaza, admits that mobile money is no longer as profitable as it once was.

 “These days you cannot rely on mobile money alone because of the very low commissions,” she narrates her ordeal.

According to her, in order to make ends meet, one has to operate the business alongside selling other items to supplement your income.

Statistics from the Bank of Uganda indicate that between June 2016 and June 2017, the total value of mobile money transactions increased from Ush36 trillion to Ush60 trillion.

But on the flip side, in the years that followed, the total value of mobile money transactions reduced from Ush73 trillion to Ush66 trillion between July 2018 and June 2019.

A ray of hope on the horizon

 Mr Alex Kikomeko, a mobile money agent based in Luweero, is still optimistic. He says despite the reduction in their commission, he still earns enough profits from the business.

He reveals that his monthly income on average is Ush500,000 commission which he says is usually enough to sustain him.

Increasing challenges in the mobile money business

According to the Chairperson of the agents’ association, Mr George Nyombi, mobile money agents endure a number of challenges which include increased insecurity which is a threat to their lives, including robberies, kidnaps and illegal or fraudulent transfer of cash from their accounts.

The mobile money agents association has over 180,000 members spread out across East Africa.

In May 2022, Airtel Money Uganda offered small businesses merchant numbers for mobile money accounts.

This year, regular Airtel Money customers and business owners across Uganda, using their existing SIM Cards, are now able to separate their business finances from their personal airtel money wallets by using the USSD Code 18510*10# to create a Unique Merchant Till Number.

Mr. Japhet Aritho, the Managing Director Airtel Mobile Commerce Limited (AMCUL) during the launch of the new service said;

 “We are committed to delivering on our promise to grow financial inclusion for all in Uganda. Today, we have enabled small businesses, in the comfort of their shops, to create the Airtel Money Merchant Till Number. This is the first tool in business basic financial management. It will help these growing businesses to focus on growing their businesses

and tracking their revenues better.”

Airtel’s huge investment in telecom infrastructure includes over 21,000 masts countrywide

The telco MD acknowledged that;

 “Airtel has deliberately built a telecom infrastructure of over 21,000 site masts across Uganda, and it is on the back of this infrastructure that innovative solutions like the Merchant Till Number service have been made possible. Customers can enjoy seamless border-to-border connectivity, get access to affordable devices, and affordable e-commerce solutions,” said Mr Aritho in May this year.

An Airtel money agent registers new customers
An Airtel money agent registers new customers

In line with this new development, Airtel customers can use this number to accomplish the following tasks:
• Receive payments for goods and services from their duuka, Boda rides, saloon, etc.
• Transfer money from the till number to their Airtel Money number and
• View balances on both their new Merchant Till Number and personal Airtel Money wallet.

In conclusion, Japhet says,

 “The new Micro Merchant Till number service will boost business as the proprietors will have proper accountability and oversight of their business. They will know the income that is resultant of the business transactions separate from their personal transactions. The users will use their current SIM cards, and be able to monitor up to 10 different branches of their small businesses.”

MTN Uganda has a product called MoKash.

 Mokash is an MTN Uganda mobile money service that allows users to save and borrow money.

When you access a loan between Ush3,000 and up to Ush1,000,000, you will pay a nine percent facilitation fee. However, if you fail to repay the loan in 30 days, MTN will extend the loan period for another 30 days at a cost of nine percent.

In March 2022, the e-commerce platform Wave Mobile Money, a startup with a big footprint in several francophone countries, was 2021 licensed by the Bank of Uganda to operate financial services in Uganda.

Wave is a new entrant in the Ugandan industry, but with continental ambitions to cover the entire Africa, hopes to tap into a market that processed transactions worth $46 billion in 2020, a 23% increase from 2019.

On the other hand, SafeBoda customers who want to use their mobile money feature have to update their apps to the latest version(s) v.4.6.0 (Android) and v.4.2.3 (iOS) so as to be in a position to make money transfers to the bank or mobile money.

According to one the founders of the App, Ricky Rapa Thomson;

“The option of money transfer from one SafeBoda wallet to another is still available for customers. The SafeBoda Wallet is one of the most common features of the SafeBoda Super App —besides enabling you to use the app for more than just rides, the SafeBoda Wallet ensures that your digital payment experience is the very best,” he says.

Following a huge cash injection into SafeBoda, the ride-hailing App is expected to get more aggressive in the fintech sector. With funding from Google Africa Investment Fund at the tail of 2021, SafeBoda emphasises it will drive its growth in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria, scaling its transportation-led app to offer new payment and financial services solutions for its expanding set of customers: passengers, drivers, and merchants.

According to SafeBoda co-founder, Ricky Rapa part of the objectives of the fund is to see the company launch its fintech service and make an impact on digital financial inclusion.

In May 2021, Bank of Uganda issued licences to payment service providers Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda Limited and MTN Mobile Money Uganda Limited.

The available bank options that allow money transfers from the SafeBoda wallet include; KCB, Stanbic Bank, Equity Bank, ABSA Bank, DFCU Bank, and Centenary bank.

As for mobile money, SafeBoda as of now only allows the transfer of money from your SafeBoda Wallet to your Airtel Money account.

SafeBoda is curerently in talks with MTN Mobile Money Uganda and will soon have this feature available for their customers.

How to transfer Money from SafeBoda Wallet to a Bank Account

  • Open the updated SafeBoda app and click on ‘Withdraw’.
  • Select the ‘Bank’ option and a list of available banks will be displayed for you to choose from.
  • Enter the bank account details including the name and account number. The bank account number should match the account name for the transaction to be completed successfully. If it does not, the transaction is aborted and the amount refunded back to your wallet.
  • Input the amount you wish to send and confirm the transaction with your Wallet PIN.

The transaction charge is only Ush1,000.

The SafeBoda Wallet was approved by the Central Bank of Uganda that allows customers to send and receive money, recharge airtime & data bundles, pay utility bills, shop online, or pay to friends/vendors.

Mobile money adoption is growing at a fast pace in Uganda.

 According to industry experts, in an underdeveloped financial infrastructure in Uganda with a large section of the population having no formal bank accounts, the mobile money market in Uganda leverages the use and convenience of mobile phones offered by the mobile money service to these consumers.

Wave’s business presence in Uganda and Kenya is evidence of new competition for long term telcos like MTN Uganda, and for Airtel’s Airtel Money—the country’s flagship mobile money giants.

MTN has been a leader in this domain, since the launch of Mobile Money services in Uganda in 2009.

MTN Uganda starting from USSD-led mobile money 1.0 to smartphone-led mobile money 2.0 with the introduction of the MTN MoMo app.

The increase in the number of players in this sector is a welcome move for most people who had voiced growing concerns from some sections of the public that felt existing players were overcharging due to lack of competition.

As a result, many view the entry of Wave as healthy competition to MTN Mobile Money and Airtel Mobile Money.

Wave relates itself in similarity to PayPal in terms of offering easy money transfer between peers, but it works with mobile money accounts instead of bank accounts.

How it works, Wave customers visit physical agent posts to make deposits and withdrawals without a fee, or use a smartphone app with a flat 1% cut of the money being sent.

Wave Mobile introduces free charges

Wave on their twitter page, explained that users can pay for utility bills such as electricity, water, and pay TV free of charge using the Wave Mobile Money Platform.

With both MTN MoMo and Wave, customers can withdraw or deposit money and pay utility bills without the use of the internet or offline.

Wave mobile money uses a QR code on a card for offline access. Customers without a smartphone are registered and given a card with a QR code which they can use to deposit and withdraw money from their Wave accounts.

“We are so excited about our expansion in Uganda. Our mission remains the same, build an inclusive and affordable financial network for all everywhere,” Wave stated in a recent tweet.

The tech firm recently poached MultiChoice Uganda’s head of marketing Collin Asiimwe to lead its marketing team.

Colin-Asiimwe recently joined Wave from MultiChoice Uganda
Colin-Asiimwe recently joined Wave from MultiChoice Uganda

The growth of mobile money across Africa

On a continental scale, it has grown tremendously in the West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire, from being used by 30% of the population in 2016 to 83% in 2021.

In 2020, East Africa as a sub-continent had more active mobile money accounts (94 million) than West Africa (47 million) but West Africa had more live services (70) in comparison to East Africa’s (57).

In 2021, Uganda’s mobile money transactions hit the one billion mark, translating into an average of 15 transactions per active account every month.

Bank of Uganda (BoU) in 2021, separated mobile money services from telecom services. This was done under the National Payment System Act 2020, which was guided by the National Payment System Implementing Regulations.

Uganda’s central bank has since then gone on to licence 14 companies to offer similar financial services. They include Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda, MTN Mobile Money Uganda, Interswitch, Pegasus, Micropay and Wave.

In addition to this, the following players were granted Payment System Operators, Payment Service Providers and Issuers of Payment Instruments permits. They are Chipper Technologies, Future Link Technologies EzeeMoney, Guiness Tech and Agent Banking Corporation.

Some of Uganda’s top commercial banks such as Stanbic Bank Uganda are now officially e-money providers.

Ugandans can now expect improved access to financial services as a result of this increasing number of companies who are joining the fold of service providers.

Business Times Uganda

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