The 10 Commandments of Launching Mobile Money

Reading that Ethio Telecom is launching mobile money brought back memories of the first mobile money launch I ever participated in. It was 13 years ago – ah, when we were young and innocent! There was not much reference material to go by and so we flew by the seat of our pants. Now, years later, we have seen many things, learnt a lot, forgotten some lessons but we can still share some lessons. Here are the 10 commandments for launching mobile money. Some people may have a problem with the term “commandment”. Well, they are commandments, because I said so and I believe that should settle the debate.

  1. Visit the Gold Mine of Mistakes: Mistakes have been made in other implementations. Examples of mobile money frauds, leakages and system breaches abound. That would be a great starting point, not for any ‘morbid’ reasons but simply because there is no need to pay twice for the same schooling. If somebody already learnt an expensive lesson, we can learn from their experience.
  2. Forget the Perfect System: There is no need to attempt to launch the perfect mobile money system, for the simple reason that it does not exist and in any case, after the launch, a lot more is determined by non-system matters. Instead, perhaps look for an architecture that is scaleable, supports secure integrations, provides versatile information to the AML, RA and Fraud Management Systems and enables extension of functionality without thousands of change requests.
  3. Work With a Few Good Men (and Women): The programme team would need to have people who have demonstrable experience in mobile money but are also open to learning more about it, including the local (in-country) specifics that make every implementation unique. They do not need to be many in number, or the loudest people in the room, but they need to be solid resources who passionately work together to do a great job.
  4. Think Risk: Iterative risk assessment at each point of the program is needed because things change. Information that we get as we go through the implementation alters the risk landscape. The program risk log needs to be a holy document. Resist the temptation to treat risk update sessions as a mere administrative task. This can very well mean the difference between success and failure.
  5. Channel Your Future Success… or Failure: Channel partners (for example, agents) are an important part of the mobile money ecosystem and the recruitment begins early on. They can make or break the business. Some enable it and some are the (worst) avenues for fraud comprising a formidable enemy within. Be careful who you get into bed with. The due diligence for these partners needs to be sound. Remember, the executives will push for growth, hence more partners will be signed up, faster and faster. That should never be an excuse to invite bandits. Of course, this is easier said than done.
  6. Constant Regulatory Engagement: An understanding of the prevailing regulatory regime is necessary before launch and even beyond. There is a limit to how much one can influence the regulator. Some regulators are generally progressive and are able to see the big picture. Some only look for opportunities for a fight. Whatever the case, like it or not, the regulator is important and will have a say on how the mobile money business unfolds. Engage, anticipate, act… or you will find yourself in a rut.
  7. Develop Intelligent Metrics Early: There are lots of generic KPIs being used to monitor mobile money business. Some were just copy-paste jobs from the world of GSM and some are basically vanity metrics. The number of mobile money customers registered, number of customers active in the last x number of days are all good but hardly tell the story. How about the number of customers who perform revenue-generating transactions that keep the money circulating in the platform for x number of days and above? What is the split between that and those who perform transactions that are non-revenue generating? Month-on-month, how is that changing and what does it mean for the business? Does your company issue sustainability reports and how is mobile money contribution to employment, entrepreneurship etc tracked? Challenge the business teams to come up with metrics that say something meaningful.
  8. Time to Unlearn: The maturing telco environment made us comfortable. Even though 5G is set to change a lot of things, there is still a lot that has been settled over decades of making mistakes and (hopefully) learning. There are ways of doing things in the telco. Well, mobile money is changing that. Each market has its own idiosyncrasies. Some of them work well for the telco, others do not. Your mission, should you accept it, is to figure out these quirks before they become an issue. There is one guarantee: the template will not always work. Good luck.
  9. Contribute to the Gold Mine of Mistakes: Remember the first point. If you learnt from others, make sure others learn from you. Do not be shy. We know you will make mistakes, because we all screwed up somewhere along the way. The RAG Leakage Catalogue is not full yet.
  10. Thou Shalt have Fun: Large projects are exciting for some people. Yet, for others, they are just a way to earn a pay check. If it is not fun being part of the launch team of mobile money, do not do it. I can think of a thousand other things to do to earn money. Seriously.
Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu is a director at Integrated Risk Services Ltd and specializes in revenue assurance. He previously worked as Head of Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management at Vodacom's operation in Tanzania, having previously served in the same role at Vodacom Mozambique.

Before his work with Vodacom, Joseph was an internal audit manager for Airtel, with responsibility that covered their 17 countries in Africa. Whilst at Airtel, Joseph led reviews of the Revenue Assurance, Customer Service and Sales & Marketing functions.

Prior to his stint at Airtel, Joseph was an RA manager at Safaricom in Kenya. He holds an MSc Degree in Information Systems.