Do ‘Mobile Money ATMS’ Mean Doom for the Mobile Money Agents?

There has been all this talk of Mobile Money Automated Teller Machines (ATMS), with a certain wave of excitement.

True, these machines can save one from Mobile Money agents with poor customer care, poor attitudes, and a combination of undesirable mannerisms which all together make ones transaction experience quite unbearable. Also, they can make money readily available when one needs it, I guess, as opposed to when they have to hop from one agent to the next due to lack of float or if I may, at night when they need to make emergency withdrawals.

However, the mother of all CLAIMS is that “the introduction of these machines will lead to the inevitable death of the MOBILE MONEY AGENTS”, as they will have no business relevance.

I think that claim is as wrong as they come. One, it stems from a position of misinformation, suggesting that Telecoms are moving to have ATMs as a standalone option for provision of Mobile Money services and two, I believe that ‘Mobile Money ATMS’-as suggested, wouldn’t render Mobile Money agents irrelevant. At least, not in the next good number of years, and this is why.

It’s not a new concept:

At times things seem so exciting, perhaps because of how they have been said but concept of accessing mobile money through ATM machines isn’t new.

  • In 2013, as reported by chimpreports.com, MTN launched its cash out service with Crane Bank, where Mobile Money users could transact through Crane Bank ATMs.
  • In 2014, MTN partnered with Centenary Bank on the mobile money ATM cash out service, ensuring that “Centenary bank’s 147 ATMs that are strategically located at all the 62 branches in the country will be utilized by millions of customers from     centenary     bank     and     MTN     Mobile     Money”, as reported by new Vision.
  • Around the same time, the service was launched in Kigali in a partnership with KCB Bank.
  • These services, actually support cardless withdraw, where users just have to rely on their mobile wallet without the need for the banks’ ATM cards in order to transact.
  • What is being reported now, with excitement, is simply an extension of this approach, with more partnerships with financial service providers like Interswitch for ATM-Mobile Money service provision.

The market: Whereas I can comfortably withdraw money from any ATM (but I have never!), the same cannot be said of an illiterate person, who would require some guidance and help to transact. If not from their kids for example, then from a dedicated agent. And, it isn’t just the illiterate; even I have often times required the help of a supermarket attendant to operate a PayWay machine for example. Bottom-line being, machines are not as easy as they seem when it comes to usability.

This is why so many people would rather join a long queue and pick their money off the counter even when the amount they want can be well gotten off an ATM.

Furthermore, adaptability is another issue that Telecoms have to cope with should there be any attempt to replace the agents with ATMS, be it on the short or long term.

Case in point:I was with this friend who because of his busy schedule had failed to buy Electricity and back home, they were calling him like crazy. Ideally, he was moving around with his YAKA card hoping to stop by any UMEME office and buy electricity. I asked him if he had any money on his Airtel money account and he actually had lots of it. I got his phone, asked him how much he wanted to buy, told him to enter his password and viola, he sent the YAKA Token to his wife, all achieved in less than a minute. This man is a lawyer and very well educated but he together with his household of about five weren’t aware that they could buy and pay for things through his account.

Out there, there are so many people like him, who despite having money on their phones, still go to the nearby kiosk so that James, a Mobile Money agent can buy electricity for them, at a fee. It speaks to adaptability, awareness and ability and all this calls for investment by Telecoms to make people aware of, and actually enable them to use ‘Mobile Money ATMS’.

This then brings into reality, the question of whether ATMs are a smarter business model as a standalone option if compared to Mobile Money agents or a hybrid of all.

Whereas, the agent pays the telecom to do business for them by buying a Mobile Money line, buying float and looking for clients, the telecom has to pay for space where to install the machine, pay for its security, pay for its servicing and maintenance and further, always transport money to and from the machine, all the work that an agent achieves without the telecom’s direct investment, without shared liability and while also, reaching out to the last man and covering the education literacy and awareness disparities greatly.

This same model partly informs why for ATM-Mobile Money transactions, Telecoms are partnering with Banks, because they already have the required infrastructure, a model akin to that of agents.

In a nutshell, I am not saying that ‘Mobile Money ATMS’ are not a good idea but they cannot render the mobile money agents useless. This, at least for the next good number of years. Any telecom knows best that they can only have these ATMs as a supplementary service forming part of a comprehensive hybrid plan and they, if smart, cannot move to completely phase-out the agents.

If you have anything to share about this articile, please do so in the comments section.

Till next time.

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