How to make mobile money more appealing than cash?
Recent findings of UNCDF projects show that mobile money is an easy alternative to cash to facilitate bulk payments in the coffee value chain. However, coffee farmers who are being paid digitally for their produce, still see a lot of value in the usage of cash. To pay for their daily groceries such as rice, cooking oil and charcoal for instance.
“Something needs to change if agriculture value chains such as coffee are to be digitized”, argues Delia Dean, Value Chain & Digital Finance Specialist at UNCDF. “When we digitize such value chains, we need to consider every payment in a farmer’s day, all of which need to be considered for digitization. Our experience and observation tells us that, besides savings, many farmers have limited to almost no use case for mobile money. This means that if we are to create a positive value proposition and stimulate uptake of digital payments, we have to create additional use cases and these new options need to be integrated within their day-to-day spent patterns.”
Against this background, UNCDF and CGAP, with technical support from PHB Development are designing new business models for mobile money services in Uganda. Ciprian Panturu, Digital Finance Expert at UNCDF suggests that the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) should start focusing on volumes rather than high-value services. “The current mobile money business model in Uganda is essentially driven by a single use case; person-to-person remittance services. People mostly use them to send money to family and friends living in rural areas. The recipients then find an agent and cash-out most or all of what they have received and pay a fee for doing that. This is where the MNOs get a big share of their revenues.”, says Ciprian. The main problem with this model is that there is a restricted demand and, more importantly, it ends up with a return to cash.
In the current model a strong and liquid agent network is required. But setting up and running an agent ecosystem for customers to collect these remittances is expensive. Agent commissions and other related costs are the main cost drivers and reduce profit margins for MNOs. At the same time, these cash-out fees represent an important barrier to regular use by customers. The digital journey systematically starts from and ends up in cash, which is what makes the model less efficient.
Nathan Were from CGAP says that MNOs are faced with large untapped opportunities; “People make several cash transactions every single day and there is always a cost associated with using cash. Such as the risk of losing money, theft and the inconvenience of carrying cash. If MNOs change their models so that the cost of using mobile money is well below the cost of cash, people will make the switch,” suggests Nathan and points out that this will lead to a reduced need for running extensive agent networks.
“This is where there are big opportunities for MNO’s and we have only scratched the surface of what can be done”, believes Nathan. “MNOs could transition to a closed-loop digital payments eco-system within five years. Although it requires taking some risks, but relatively limited upfront investment is needed and there is a lot of space for growth. MNOs now have a vast user base, currently mainly using mobile money for remittances. Meanwhile, the average user is using cash for more than 10 basic transactions to pay for goods and services every single day. If we can digitize this type of transactions with a competitive enough fee structure that is low enough to ‘beat’ the cost of cash, people will start using mobile money to conduct their regular payment transactions. MNOs can tap into this market and we expect to see an exponential increase of their transaction volumes.”