MNOs as Depository Institutions?

Updated November 10, 2009

Excellent Background Articles:

Success and value breed trust and loyalty. MPESA customer surveys by CGAP point to desire for MPESA to offer interest on balances. The genesis of MPESA’s success is not something that Banks have seen before (in emerging markets):

  • Cash replacement (without their control)
  • Technology
  • Customer segment – Growth from the LOW end of customers that banks normally serves

Deposit taking, and payments are typically a regulated businesses which banks have excelled. However their past success was serving a customer segment that was far different then what MPESA serves today. Can Banks adapt to the new opportunities service the unbanked in emerging markets? Will new Micro Finance Institutions (MFI) emerge as the principle banking entity? Will MNOs seek approval to offer financial services separate from Banks or MFIs?

In Kenya, the explosive growth of MPESA has put both regulators and banks in a very awkward position. It was originally launched as a money transfer business, and has emerged as an effective cash replacement with an annual transaction volume of over 10% of Kenya’s GDP. Consumers have unexpectedly embraced MPESA, and regulations have had a challenging time adapting (or anticipating) the vector in which it has grown. The regulatory challenge now is “connecting” the MPESA network to the “banking” network and evolving the:  regulatory authority, regulations and controls around it.

In 2005, Kenya drafted the Deposit Taking Micro Finance Bill which was past at the end of 2006.

In addition to supporting traditional MFIs, the Act made it possible for non-banks to participate in deposit taking as an MFI (in the future), and now the first “non-bank” MFI has been accepted (just 3 months ago in June 09).

It remains to be seen whether an MFI license will be granted to MPESA, to extend its money transfer license. A more likely route will be for (multiple) MFIs to be approved to source funds from MPESA (MPESA as payment network)

The Philippines may provide the best example for MNO/Bank collaboration in mobile money. GCASH in the Philippines is the mobile money solution from MNO Global in conjunction with Bank of the Phillipines (BPI).

Last year Global and BPI partnered in the creation of a new microfinance provider:   Pilipinas Savings Bank

The Philippines was one of the first countries to develop a comprehensive law in support of MFIs. In 2000, Philippine regulators acted in response to the updated General Banking Law which mandated recognition of microfinance as a legitimate banking activity. Regulators developed a unique set of rules and regulations MFIs as the updated Law declared microfinance as a flagship program for poverty alleviation.

Bank as Depository Institution

Before tackling the issue of Deposit taking in Kenya, let’s discuss the issues surrounding existing (non MFI) banks servicing MPESA customers. Having spoken to several of the key parties in Kenya, the business issues surround: who “owns the customer”,  who is assuming the risk (“money transfer” v. bank ) burden for this connection. For purposes of example, let’s take the KYC requirement in Kenya (as in most countries) a customer sighting (by a bank employee) with valid ID. Kenya has had problems with counterfeit IDs

How should regulators proceed? Bank infrastructure in many parts of the country is immature. There are over a million people that would need to go through the KYC process, most of which do not have an identity card (separate from issues in article above). Should regulators relax the KYC burden? Should money transfer agents be allowed to operate under MFI regulation? In my post below, I’ve outlined a few of the regulatory approaches

I would certainly like additional feedback, but my understanding is that regulators are taking a concurrent track: Updating the MFI regulations (originally designed in 2005), updating the “Money Transfer” regulations as covered within the General Banking Act, approving MFIs to source funds from MPESA (services on the MPesa Network) and defining a new regulatory scheme for mobile money which would touch both banking and telecommunications regulations. Vodafone’s regulatory experience here will likely prove to be a tremendous differentiator in future markets, as their ability to field a team capable of partnering with regulators further enhances their creditability.

(A very broad summary of the issues, apologize in advance for the gaps.) From a Bank perspective, concern is justified over MNOs ability to create a liabilities business. Banks should have the right to compete for these deposits, with a level regulatory playing field. From a MNO perspective, banks have not served these customers in the past. For MPESA, the Banks interest in this segment arose after the MNO developed it. The banks should pay for this “customer acquisition” and servicing, and the MNO should be able to offer products and services that support customers.

MNO Deposit taking

There are currently 3 separately regulated parties that are positioning to provide interest bearing accounts: Money Transfer Services, MFIs, and Banks.  Emerging markets have invested significant resources in defining MFI regulations, however these were drafted prior to the success of services like GCASH and MPESA. The CGAP data in Kenya clearly shows customer “interest” (pardon the play) in using MNO services beyond that which a “money transfer agent” is licensed to perform. However accelerating the attractiveness of these money transfer services, by providing interest bearing accounts, may further exacerbate an already challenging regulatory situation. I would expect to see regulators requesting that MNOs open up/partner with traditional banks (as the depository institution) prior to approving MNOs as an MFI, or enabling traditional MFIs to compete. Interoperability between these licensed entities must be addressed. This view flows out of MNO incentives (e.g customer ownership, high fees for cash out) and current agreements with bank(s) with regard to settlement of funds. With that said, I would expect very little success for traditional banks attempting to provide this service, as it does not align to their business model. A model which will likely succeed is MFIs access to “non-traditional” payment services, as both MNOs and MFIs are nimbal and able to adapt quickly here and support their existing business model. See Western Union example below (in India)

The challenges that MPESA faces, while challenging, are extremely exciting as it represents the “Phase 2” success of mobile money in emerging markets. Just look at the rate of change in issues facing service in Kenya today, compared with 18 months ago