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20 Dollar Smartphone - what does it mean for mobile banking?

In every market I visit, the message is clear – it is all about channel innovation. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the West African Banking Dialogue in Lagos. This event brought together top banks from across Nigeria and Ghana to discuss the future of banking in the region. Again and again, banks looked at the future of digital and how it would shape their business.

A key message that I shared in my presentation was arrival of the ultra-low cost smartphone. I cannot emphasise enough that this will have a massive impact on banks. Both ARM and Mozilla have announced devices will be on the market soon at a cost of $20 or $25 ( The devices will be hi-spec and their screens will be similar to those in the iPhone 3. That is a serious reduction of the lowest price today – which is around $80 for a fairly low spec device.

This will mean a significant leap in the uptake of mobile technology across all markets. I suspect the impact will be most pronounced in emerging markets – but it will have implications for developed markets as well. We have already seen some leading banks seize the opportunities provided by mobile. An excellent example from the Lagos meeting was Standard Bank in South Africa – which is now the largest distributor of iPhones in South Africa. The bank offers the phones to customers at a low price, with their mobile banking app already loaded on it. Having realised that the cost of mobile data was a big blocker for many potential mobile banker on low wages, the bank had a great idea. All their branches have excellent internet access which was not utilised from 5pm to 9am. So they simply made their branches into wifi hotspots after branch hours. Customers who qualified for the bank’s loyalty scheme were given free access.

When you add such innovative customer strategies to the new device prices, you have the conditions where the adoption of mobile banking will fly. That means banks need to think carefully about how good their mobile banking is as a shop front for their brand. Banks also need to think about how they will grow revenue on the back of this upswing in adoption.

In my next blog, I am going to talk about the opinions from Lagos on the role of telcos in mobile banking – and why banks need to think seriously about mobile strategies involving telco dependency.  


Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 01 August, 2014, 11:571 like 1 like

Hi Alex, it was great talking to you in Barcelona last month!

I don't see this having a huge impact on banking in developing countries.

First of all, users of $20 mobiles phones will have very low income and will represent virtually no value to banks - there is just no revenue to fight for.

Secondly, mobile banking these days is purely informational and transactional - even most developed banks do not offer products or transactions that actually generate revenue via mobile banking apps. Mobile banking does not offer opportunities to make money - it's for customer service only.

So I agree that it's great to have as many people on board as possible, but this comes at a cost and I'm not sure that the business plan is solid - at least not in the short- and medium-term - must be a very long play.

Alex Bray
Alex Bray - Genpact - London 01 August, 2014, 12:17Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Hi Andrei - great to hear from you - and thanks for the comment!

I agree that many users of $20 smartphones will be on low incomes. However, I believe that there are certainly benefits to banks. First of all is the revenue from money transmission. Banks have been disintermediated by telcos and have lost this revenue, which they can now win back. It also leaves them less exposed to USSD service providers.

Further to this, you make a point that mobile banking apps do not offer revenue generation opportunities. Without mentioning brand names (!), some leading products do offer product sales via mobile. There are a number of 'one-touch' sales processes which can be rendered very effectively on mobile devices - e.g. credit cards, overdrafts, insurance etc.

Based on the feedback I have had from banks in a number of markets, there is huge interest in growing mobile banking volumes. I believe that the $20 smartphone will move customers off featurephones and will lead to the demise of USSD, SMS and browser based mobile banking - as well as opening up mobile banking to entirely new users. However, I would love to hear more opinions...

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 01 August, 2014, 19:271 like 1 like

With the cheapest feature phone selling at ~$14 in India, a $20 smartphone will indeed revolutionize the market - the mobile handset market, that is. Under the current law, for the level of KYC required to get a mobile phone plan - yes, even prepaid connections require KYC in India - one can get a bank account. Banks are not going after this market because, under the current regulations related to capital adequacy, it's not profitable for them to serve this market. Likewise, customers are not going to banks because they can get faster loan disbursement and higher interest rates from informal financial service providers like pawn brokers and "blade" companies. As things stand, it's as though banks and certain segments of the market are happy *not* doing business with each other. As long as the current regulatory framework continues, smartphone or feature phone is unlikely to make any difference to the banking market.

Alex Bray

Alex Bray

AVP, Omni-Channel Acquisition & Servicing


Member since

05 Feb 2011



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