Exploring the Future of Money, Banking and Philanthropy

Archive for June, 2013

How mobile phones are making cash obsolete in Africa – The Globe and Mail

When he rolls into a gas station to fill his tank, Barkhad Dahir doesn’t get out of his car. He punches a few buttons on his cellphone and within seconds he has paid for the fuel.

With the same quick keystrokes on his phone, he pays for virtually everything he needs: groceries at the supermarket, a few oranges from a market stall, a shoeshine on the street, a cup of sweet milky tea from a café, and even, if he wants, an afternoon’s worth of khat, a mild drug favoured by many Somalis.

“Everyone here has his own bank, with easy access and no restrictions,” boasts Mr. Dahir, a local journalist. “Even lying in bed, you can be paying your bills.”

Here in one of Africa’s poorest countries, where illiteracy is high and traditional banks are almost non-existent, a mobile revolution has created an informal electronic banking system with more efficiency and convenience than anything in Canada.

In the cities of Somaliland, the future has arrived: cash is disappearing, credit cards are unnecessary, and daily shopping is speedy and digital. Almost every merchant, even hawkers on the street, accepts payment by cellphone.

It’s an innovation that could transform the continent. Africa is already leading the world in the use of mobile money, and its growth is accelerating. In countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, mobile-money accounts have become much more widespread than bank accounts. More than 17 million Kenyans (two-thirds of the adult population) are using mobile-money services, mainly to transfer money to family members or business partners in distant locations, but increasingly for bill payments and small loans.

Somaliland, a region in northwestern Somalia that has broken away and declared independence from Mogadishu, has one of the world’s highest rates of digital transactions. Most transactions are on Zaad, a service of the biggest mobile-phone company, Telesom. A survey last year found that the average customer made 34 transactions per month – a higher rate than almost anywhere else in the world.

“I don’t even carry money any more,” says Adan Abokor, a scholar and democracy activist in Somaliland.

“I haven’t seen cash for a long time. Even small payments, like a bus ticket, can be made with Zaad. When my kids are at school and they want a sandwich, I send them the payment by Zaad. It’s immediate – there’s no waiting for it, no counting of cash.”

The system is impressively simple and secure. Subscribers give an occasional lump-sum payment to Telesom and then use this balance to pay merchants digitally. To make a purchase, they dial a three-digit number, enter a four-digit PIN and then enter the merchant’s Zaad number and the amount of the payment. Every merchant – even street vendors – keeps their Zaad numbers prominently displayed. Within moments, the customer and the merchant both receive text messages to confirm the payment and the transaction is done.

Mobile money has also drastically reduced the cost of crime and security for consumers, private companies and government offices. The Coca-Cola branch in Somaliland, for example, is the only cashless Coca-Cola company in Africa. About 80 per cent of its sales to its retail distributors are done through Zaad, while the remainder are done by electronic bank transfers.

“We never handle a single dollar in cash,” says Moustapha Osman Guelleh, chief operating officer of Coca-Cola’s licensed bottler in Somaliland. “We don’t have any issues of having to keep cash in a safe.”

Many companies use Zaad for all of their salary payments to their employees. “It has made life easier for our people,” says Khader Aden Hussein, general manager of the Ambassador Hotel in Hargeisa, who uses Zaad to pay all of his 300 employees and almost half of his suppliers. “What amazes me is that even illiterate people have learned how to use it.”

Of the 3.5 million people in Somaliland, more than 500,000 subscribe to Telesom, and more than half of these subscribers are using Zaad.

via How mobile phones are making cash obsolete in Africa – The Globe and Mail.

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Mobile Payments: Why You Can’t Live Without Them – Forbes

While consumers may be happy enough with their payment options, they certainly aren’t 100% happy with the shopping experience as a whole. And mobile payments done right could transform that experience dramatically for the better.

So what exactly about the modern shopping experience needs improvement?

Fixing Coupons and Loyalty Programs

One problem with the current shopping experience is that, while merchants are generally eager to offer customers incentives in the form of loyalty programs, discounts and rewards, many of these offers are handed over at the wrong time: at the register. Instead, these benefits should be communicated early and often, with a personal touch. A good time to inform customers of a deal being offered on, say, a pint of ice cream, would be right when they walk into the grocery store on a hot July afternoon. Even better if the coupon could pop up as they stand in front of the freezer case making a decision. Location-based services embedded in mobile payment apps could put the offers that consumers actually want in their hands at just the right time.

Loyalty and rewards programs also tend to be very generic and rarely provide coupons and deals for the things that customers are actually interested in. For every CVS coupon I get for something that I actually need, I get a yard of paper coupons for things I have no interest in. Mobile payments apps with effective data collection and high-tech targeting capabilities could eliminate this problem (and as a side bonus do away with the paper trail altogether!)

Merging the Online and Offline Worlds

There is no seamless way to move from online browsing to offline shopping, even though many of us do this regularly. Barcode scanners and the like make it fairly simple to showroom items we’re interested from inside a store. And there are a few apps out there (Nordstrom’s comes to mind) that allow customers to quickly select an item for local in-store pickup. But for the most part, once you find an item that you want online, the only way to be sure that a store will carry it is to call around. That’s, frankly, a huge pain. It isn’t even close to the seamless shopping experience that most of us want.

But let’s say you want to locate and buy a particular pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses – pronto. In a perfect world, you’d be able to search a map on your phone and pins would pop up to indicate local stores where you can visit, try them on and buy them right away. Mobile payments apps, designed to connect customers with products, could do exactly this.

Personalizing Shopping

Shopping has become very impersonal. Few people have a relationship with a salesperson who knows their style and preferences and can direct them to the right items at the right prices as soon as they walk in the door. But wouldn’t that be nice? Preferable, certainly, to wandering cavernous stores, fending off pushy salespeople who don’t even bother to learn our names, much less our favorite colors and fabrics.

Online, personalization mainly takes the form of heavy-handed algorithms that are ineffectual if not downright intrusive. Even the internet’s famously creepy retargeting ads, which follow you from site to site flashing the same three pairs of shoes you just looked at on Zappos, don’t really offer anything personal. They’re just showing you what you’ve already seen in the hopes that repetition will sway you to purchase. Sure, retargeting might work now and again, but it definitely doesn’t add up to a better consumer shopping experience.

Mobile could offer a powerful solution to this problem. Imagine if, when you browsed for items on your phone, it suggested similar items and indicated which stores near you carry them. Using sophisticated big data algorithms, smart shopping apps could learn everything from your favorite color to your exact measurements (bypassing the annoying problem of vanity sizing) and even capture your style and preferences with enough accuracy to actively suggest new pieces to add to your wardrobe at the beginning of the shopping season. These are just a few (clothes-focused) examples of how mobile tech could make our shopping experiences significantly more convenient — and fun.

Businesses Want the Same Things as Consumers

The strange thing is that merchants want all three of the things mentioned above — a more effective loyalty program, a successfully merged online/offline experience, and a personalized shopping experience. They know that all of these things will bring them new customers and keep existing ones coming back.

via Mobile Payments: Why You Can’t Live Without Them – Forbes.

via Mobile Payments: Why You Can’t Live Without Them – Forbes.

Read Books, Earn Points: A Publisher Unveils a Rewards Program | TIME.com

For some people—people who work for culture blogs, just to take an example—getting advance copies of books is nothing new. That’s how reviews are published right when books go on sale. But for book lovers who usually have to wait for a title to show up in stores, the chance to take an early look at the work of a favorite author is something to salivate over and to talk about.At least, that’s what the publishing company Penguin Group hopes.As part of their new and free program called First to Read, members will have a chance to download so-called “advance reading copies” of upcoming titles from writers like Elizabeth Gilbert and Richelle Mead, up to three months before they’re available to the public. Any member can enter the pool to win a limited number of digital copies—the first group of titles will be given out June 25—but it’s the other way of getting access, where First to Read gets interesting.  First to Read isn’t the first program to offer readers sneak peeks. Goodreads has a giveaway program with a similar sweepstakes format, and offers titles from many publishers. Penguin Group only gives away their own books, if you didn’t guess. But First to Read also reward members with “points.”Activity on the First to Read site—from sharing items to winning advance copies of books—will earn points for users, explains Suzie Sisoler, Penguin’s senior director of consumer engagement. Right now nobody has points, but in the future they’ll be redeemable for guaranteed access to galleys. The idea, Sisoler tells TIME, is that those who participate are likely to be big readers who the company hopes will talk about books and generate word-of-mouth buzz prior to publication.

via Read Books, Earn Points: A Publisher Unveils a Rewards Program | TIME.com.

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