“SA has always punched above its weight,” says Felix Kamenga, chief officer of MTN SA’s mobile financial services. Such competitiveness is a significant part of SA’s DNA, Kamenga — like many of us — believes.
For SA to compete, though, Kamenga says we need wider financial inclusivity. And we need to take advantage of the many ways that technology — digital technology especially — cannot only improve people’s lives but also grant them access to economic inclusion. “Look at what IT has done for India,” he says. “And at how technology has enabled China to bring so many people into the middle class.”
Two significant technologies have the power to shift SA in the immediate future. One of these is the arrival of 5G, which is set to accelerate our part in the digital revolution.
The other, already in play and already changing the lives of millions of South Africans, is mobile banking.
Kamenga believes that this is a fundamental development happening within the fintech space that is helping to dramatically extend the reach of financial inclusion to people who can’t afford the costs of traditional banking.
MTN’s Mobile Money — or MoMo — app (powered by UBank) has already, within months of its launch, made fundamental inroads into people’s lives.
Of course, it seems almost fortuitous that MoMo’s launch coincided with the global crises precipitated by Covid-19. It forced a rethink.
“One of 2020’s dramatic realisations was that transacting in person could be hazardous,” Kamenga says. “It just wasn’t as straightforward — or necessarily possible — to go out and buy things you needed.”
But a platform like MoMo provides a solution; it offers the means to navigate economic life digitally, without transacting physically.
“Our Mobile Money app came at a critical time,” Kamenga says. “We’ve made it easier for people to access all kinds of services, everything from paying your satellite subscription to buying airtime and sending money to other people without having to handle cash. We’ve made it possible to perform those payments from the safety and comfort of your home — without the worry and inconvenience of having to be sanitised 25 times for a simple transaction.”
The pandemic prompted the introduction on the MoMo platform of free peer-to-peer payments for amounts under R200. The burden on consumers was further eased by zero-rating instant EFT payments and discounts on card-to-wallet transactions and payments to agents and participating retailers — all effective for the duration of Covid-related restrictions.
Additionally, the platform brings with it out-of-the-box innovations to simplify daily life. “During Covid, MTN MoMo made it possible for people to, for example, pay their offerings and tithes in churches; to pay insurance policies; to donate to charities; to buy Lotto tickets, to buy electricity; and to renew and pay for car licence discs, which we then deliver,” Kamenga says.
Such innovations aren’t dreamt up in a vacuum. Measuring the nation’s “pain points”, as Kamenga calls them, is grounded in extensive fieldwork. “We travelled the length and breadth of the country, to all the provinces, and we sat and talked with people in communities to hear them identifying their most pressing needs.”
The idea was to develop a deep understanding of how everyday people — everywhere — interact with financial services to come up with novel solutions to address those concerns. “It was about speaking to people, finding out what products and services could add value to their lives, and alleviating their woes and niggles,” Kamenga says.
The payoff for listening to the people? A platform that has opened 2-million wallets in 10 months.
“And we have a whole stash of new features and services lined up,” he says. Coming up soon is a service that will enable you to send money across the border; micro-loans and insurance. “We are looking into enabling small businesses and supporting businesses. And small-scale share-trading.
These are already novel prospects, but Kamenga says he can look even further ahead. MTN SA’s Mobile Financial Services is already working with spaza shops to help them digitise payments to bring their retail operations into the modern era.
It’s all about “enhancing your competitiveness”, says Kamenga. “We want to improve your ability to stand out, so that we can — as a nation — compete on the world stage, while caring for our people and accelerating our recovery.”
“To achieve that, we need to come up with clever solutions, and I wholeheartedly believe that the solutions to the majority of our problems are in this country, whether it’s unemployment, health, security or education. Technology, collaboration and optimism can help us solve those problems.”
* This article was paid for by MTN.