This video featured an interview with a mobile money super agent who has provided agent training for several mobile money operators in Nigeria including MTN. MTN had to suspend its mobile money service in late 2012 since the Central Bank’s guidelines prohibit mobile network operators (MNOs) from playing a lead role in any mobile money service in Nigeria. After seeing the virtual monopoly created by Safaricom’s MPESA in Kenya, the Central Bank of Nigeria decided to only allow bank-led and non-MNO led third party operators to operate mobile money services in Nigeria. The Central Bank of Nigeria clearly felt that a dominant MNO-led mobile money issuer could quickly create a monopoly and pose a systemic risk for the country.
While the reasons provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria are sound ones, this decision has not been without its own controversy. Based on their dominant market position, experience operating mobile money across Africa, the views of agents and discussions with others in Nigeria, it is quite clear that if MTN was allowed to offer mobile money services directly to its subscribers, it probably would have dominated the market. Given the extensive network and the large advertising budget of MTN, it is an arguable point that Nigeria could have seen a much more rapid take-up of mobile money across the country than it has so far.
While personally I understand the argument and concerns of the Central Bank of Nigeria, it would have been interesting to see what might have happened if MTN and other MNOs offered mobile money directly to their subscribers via their agent networks in Nigeria. This agent for one argues quite strongly in favor of allowing companies like MTN to offer mobile money directly. He strongly felt that the banks were too comfortable and were not as interested in this market, while a company like MTN was well positioned to understand and support mobile money services.
In the meantime, however, MTN has come out quite clearly to support the Central Bank of Nigeria’s bank-led mobile money model. In a recent article in Ventures Africa, MTN’s Corporate Services Executive, Akinwale Goodluck, said “We are supportive of any initiative that brings financial inclusion to the masses and the Central Bank’s efforts in this regard are highly commendable. The world today is heavily dependent on ICT. Our future success as a company depends on how well we support services like mobile money.”
He added that “The current partnership between banks and telecommunications operators in the mobile money space leverages available cutting edge Information and Communications Technology (ICT) offered by the telecommunications operators and best practice payment protocols and expertise supervised by the CBN.”
As I mentioned in my predictions for 2013, Nigeria will be an interesting market to watch this year. While it is clear that Mobile Money powered by MTN would have been a major player in this market, it will be interesting to see if bank and third-party led operators in Nigeria have the stamina, marketing strength and overall commitment to build and establish a sufficient agent network and overall customer value proposition to make Nigeria one of the mobile money powerhouses in Africa. Several mobile money operators say they are ready to make a difference and build a sufficient agent network and offer services that make a real difference in the mobile money space.
Time will tell, but I am interested in the viewpoints of others in Nigeria.