PUNE, India – 97 per cent retailers in India don’t have a facility to deal with credit cards. They use cash. And that’s exactly what Nokia Money is designed to help with. By connecting those without bank accounts (the vast majority of people in India) with those who only deal in cash, Nokia Money is seeking to connect people in a totally new way – through transactions. We caught up with the head of Nokia Money alliances, Gerhard Romen to see how things are panning out since the service was first announced last September.
Romen was involved in the first banking trial of mobile services back in 1999. That was a simple service that enabled customers of certain banks to check their account balance and trade stocks, all using a WAP-based service. By the mid noughties, individual banks started to release their own mobile banking apps, but still with limitation to broad acceptance. It needed a fresh look and a real compelling approach and strategy, Romen says and so he and his colleagues set about developing Nokia Money.
At Nokia Money’s core is an open ecosystem where different organisations bring their own core competences to the mix making mobile money happen. In Nokia’s case, this is made up of its technology expertise, human behaviour insights and research along with its vast installed base of Nokia users and its distribution and logistics network of over 160,000 mobile phone retailers across India. This last figure is remarkable when you consider that it’s approximately twice the total number of bank branches in the country – yes, for every bank branch in India, there are two Nokia retailers.
Encouraged by the success of another mobile banking service in Kenya, where about one third of the population now use the four-year-old service, the Nokia Mobile Financial Services team and Romen set about putting the pieces together. For the Nokia Money team, it was vital to have a completely open system. That’s why the service works on any device (thanks to the Obopay client technology being used), not just Nokia devices and is completely independent of any individual bank or network operator. The only thing someone needs to transfer money to another individual or retailer is their mobile number. No SWIFT codes, no IBAN numbers, no Sort Codes, just a mobile number.
Of course, it’s early days still for Nokia Money. The first pilot, Mobile Money Services by Yes Bank, went live in Pune earlier this year. Nokia retailers are being trained up and added to the service becoming mobile money agents, which will rapidly broaden the reach. The team and its partners have been working with the Indian central bank to get the sign up process as simple and fast as possible, but still complying with the strict rules there surrounding the handling of money.
The service itself is very easy to use and enables users to carry out a variety of transactions. The use cases are as fascinating as they are diverse. One that stands out is not services such as money transfer, bill payment, top-up or payment of merchants but simple security. When you’re in the lower part of the income pyramid with no bank account, how do you keep your cash safe? In a jar or under the pillow are both typical. However, offering a simple service where you can go to any agent for the service and deposit – i.e. store – your money safely, gives people a new way of looking after their money, not to mention the additional services they can then utilize.
(Read more about how Nokia Money works and the services available).
Right now we’re at the beginning of a very exciting revolution. Some of the services Gerhard was describing to me made me pretty jealous, and also made me think we’re being left behind in the western world. Fear not, though, I was told. The value points for a service such as Nokia Money are higher in countries such as India than they are in the west. However, that doesn’t mean we won’t see the service hit our shores sometime in the future. “Our ambitions are global” Romen said in his matter-of-fact German accent, but he wouldn’t be pressed on further announcements.
He did though, compare the service to SMS. When that kicked off back in the mid nineties, you could only use it on certain devices and on certain networks. Then the ecosystem opened up and you could suddenly use it everywhere. The Nokia Money team have skipped the first step and instead started with a totally open system. Its evolution then, should be rapid so we might not have to wait too long for the service to land on our shores. For now the team is focussed on developing the service in India, bringing new partners into the fold, signing up more retailers and continuing to develop and evolve the service. We might need to wait a little longer to use the service in the west, but by the sounds of things, it might not be that long. Is it a real alternative to cash? I think so.
Have you used the Mobile Money Services by Yes Bank service? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
We will also have Gerhard Romen monitoring the comments over the coming days, so if you have a question about the service, feel free to ask it below.