With a session being held at
Sibos today on whether it is too late for banks to compete in mobile payments, I thought I’d revisit a theme I’ve blogged about in the past; banks and their mobile payments’ strategy.
Having spoken to a number of banks about their mobile money and payments strategy recently, it is clear that there is no one standardised approach. Whilst some may be rolling out services, quite a number are lagging behind, waiting for demand to hit critical
mass. In these early days of industry fragmentation, the lack of universally accepted standards is scaring some banks into observing developments from the sidelines. However, this also means that those that act now are best placed to benefit from first mover
The lack of action by some banks is particularly evident in emerging markets. Many banks see mobile money and payments as a developed-market-only play. A frequent comment I hear, particularly from international banks, is that the unbanked aren’t for them.
But are they correct in that thinking? From a developing market perspective, what’s in mobile money for the banks?
Of course the emerging markets aren’t just about the unbanked - there are millions of existing banked customers too. However, considering the unbanked segment for a moment, the first thing to say is that
unbanked doesn’t equate to unbankable. Just because today someone is not being reached financially by existing banking infrastructure doesn’t mean that they aren’t in need of affordable financial services, or that they won’t be reliable customers.
It should be noted that the cost of commercial and financial transactions for the unbanked is far greater than it is for the banked, which implies that more can afford formal financial services than is generally accepted.
If we examine the forecasts predicted for mobile money within developing markets - 4.5bn mobile subscriptions within five years, 80% unbanked and one in four using mobile money – that equates to almost one billion potential new customers moving billions
of dollars every year. Even if we say only a percentage of them are bankable that is still a significant opportunity. For local banks especially, the lower cost of delivery through mobile will make a whole new customer segment profitable to serve.
Existing banked customers will also demand that mobile payments are offered to them as a service. If they aren’t then those customers will gravitate towards those financial service companies that will offer them. As per the unbanked, delivery of financial
services over the mobile channel also makes existing customers more profitable to serve.
Banks needn’t rush headlong into offering all services via mobile at once. Basic person to person (P2P) transfer and bill payments, as are commonplace in some developing countries today, could be first to be rolled attract a critical mass of customers to
use the service. Then banks can quickly move up the curve to offer more value added products, such as savings accounts, loans, insurance etc.
The technical solutions between developing and developed markets will be different. In developed markets, the solutions will be smart phone and NFC-based linked to existing bank accounts, whereas in developing markets it is more likely to be mobile-wallet
based. For the bigger economies in Asia with a marked division between urban (developed) and rural (developing) areas, you are likely to see hybrid solutions, with NFC in urban areas and wallets in rural areas. Banks will need to have complementary strategies
for both. As NFC technologies become cheaper and more ubiquitous in the years to come we will see these solutions beginning to merge.
In short, it is not too late for banks and financial institutions to make a play in mobile payments. The card payment companies are much further advanced with their strategies, as blogged about
last week. It is still early days for the industry and there is no standard operating model - if the banks act fast and play to their core strengths they can make a big contribution to this nascent industry. With the
financial crisis, ongoing economic slowdown and stringent new capital requirements eating into their profit margins, mobile payments offer banks one of the few revenue growth opportunities out there at the moment.
Mobile Money Consulting