Posts and mobile payments : golden goose or red herring ?

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Posts and mobile payments : golden goose or red herring ?

mote_slide_mobile-payment1Building on the resounding success of Kenya’s M-Pesa,  many mobile operators (and payments platforms operators) have launched m-payment  systems. Mobile wallets allow for real-time, inexpensive, country-wide money transfers – from bill payments to micro-payments to relatives or business partners.

When it comes to depositing or withdrawing cash, a large network of payment points is needed for such services to be seen as real alternatives to traditional banks. This is where posts’ and mobile players’ strategic objectives converge. Many African posts don’t have banking activities – their financial services are limited to domestic and international money orders.  Mobile payments can fill a gap in their offerings – and their revenue. Operators are also touting the “financial inclusion” dimension of such projects, i.e., allowing unbanked people, e.g.,  in rural areas, to make and receive payments.

This week’s agreement between Ghana Post and Afric Xpress, a  mobile payments platform provider,  is just the latest in a long series of deals. In the past two years, mobile giant Orange has teamed up with the posts of Niger, Mali, Madagascar and Senegal –  to name a few.  So has its main regional competitor, Zain. Nigeria’s postal service, Nipost, is said to have partnered with nine mobile payments providers.

This string of partnerships marks a most welcome change in African posts’  traditional business culture. But will mobile payment services be the golden goose Posts are hoping for ? Not all providers will survive. Partnerships agreements may not be as financially lucrative as expected.  It will probably take a few  more years for African Posts to fully learn to form sustainable, win win public/private partnerships.

And finally non-postal networks of access points are emerging, at least in urban areas. For instance, Orange Côte d’Ivoire teamed up last March with Sicap and Wincor Nixdorf, two providers of self service kiosks solutions, to install ATMs in Abidjan and other major cities. Orange Money customers will be able to top up their mobile wallets and make withdrawals from ATMs. For African Posts, mobile payments partnerships opportunities may not last for much longer.

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