MTN Rwanda, one of the largest corporates in the country is a major player in the economy. The year 2020 has created a lot of uncertainty for businesses. But for MTN Rwanda, Covid-19 brought its own set of challenges as well as opportunities.
In an exclusive interview with Collins Mwai, the Chief Executive Mitwa Kaemba Ng'ambi shared insights into the company’s priorities for the last half of 2020.
Given the turn of events influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic, what has it been like for MTN Rwanda?
In as much as we have seen overall, economic and business slow down, what we do forecast optimistically but very cautiously so, is a 12 per cent growth year-on-year.
Covid-19 has taught us some valuable lessons in focusing on what is essential. Our focus over this period has been our customers, our people (team) and the communities that we serve.
Going into the lockdown period where everyone was forced to work and learn from home, we have seen a huge appetite for use of the internet. We are seeing a huge uptake in service usage by our customers.
We have seen a shift in behavior and location of internet usage with people moving from their work environment to their home environment. Some areas doubled in terms of consumption.
Internet usage is also now spilling into homes as we offer connected home solutions through our enterprise business unit. We have connected over 400 homes with fixed internet connectivity through this period. This number continues to grow.
This period has been one in which we have continuously been adapting our operating model to best serve our customers.
And, which are priority areas as a business?
Coming into 2020, we had ambitious plans to grow digital. Growing digital means data, mobile money, Ayoba and enterprise connectivity. The growth in our data customers is about 400,000 year-on-year and currently sit at about 1.4 Million active data subscribers (within 30 days).
Ayoba which is a digital application that allows messaging as well as access to various news channels now has over 50,000 active users from within Rwanda. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Customers can send and receive messages through this application for free.
How about voice?
A lot of the growth we are forecasting will still come from the voice side of the business given that our customer base continues to expand. We now have over 5.4 Million customers, growing about 200,000 since the end of last year. This growth has come from us entering areas of the country that were not covered before. In conjunction with RURA we have rolled out over the last 6- 8 months, close to 68 [new] network sites.
Let’s talk Mobile Money. How are the numbers?
Mobile Money still remains a strong engine for growth.
During the lockdown period, we had a zero-rated person to person transfer fees which have had a positive effect on activity levels. Our mobile money subscriber base crossed the 3 million mark now reaching over 60 per cent of our customer base. This is a number that we have been chasing since last year. 6 out of 10 MTN subscribers now have and use mobile money accounts.
We have also been hard at work, expanding the MoMoPay merchant footprint. MoMoPay is the service that allows customers to pay for goods and services using Mobile Money. We now have over 30,000 active MoMoPay merchants across the country. We see this as an important lever for the attainment of the Cashless Rwanda objective.
Earlier in the year, you launched Connect Rwanda with an aim to grow Smartphone penetration, how is that going?
Connect Rwanda was a huge success. We saw over 40,000 pledges. In the period between February to March, a lot of people were coming forward to honor the pledges. It did slow down during the lockdown period and understandably so, but we are excited to resume distribution as soon as is possible.
We see the unlocking of the low smartphone penetration rates as imperative for the growth in digital. Connect Rwanda is one of many initiatives that we are running to expand smartphone usage beyond just the urban areas. The Smartphone penetration within the MTN customer base currently sits at about 23 per cent.
What trends stand out for you this year?
The rise of the emerging digital SME is one to watch. COVID19 has presented a lot of challenges but also lots of opportunities.
I see that SME’s are stepping up to solve some of the challenges that the pandemic is presenting. Several SME’s have been engaging us on mobile money integrations, digital and connectivity solutions such as hosting.
We see huge potential in this segment and felt compelled to contribute to their recovery post COVID. About a month ago, we contributed Rwf 100m to the Economic Recovery Fund. That contribution was targeted at the SME knowing that the growth trends that we saw in the first half of the year can only grow if supported.
With the growth in revenue for MTN Rwanda what trickle-down impact have you had on the local ecosystem?
The growth of MTN Rwanda is not in isolation. Directly, we employ 300 employees but also have an MTN Mobile Money Agent base of over 40,000 people across the country. These are young men and women who have invested their own capital into the business and provide the last-mile service in terms of cash deposits and withdrawals to our end customers.
We are also continuously shifting supplier engagements from international to local providers. Today, 70 per cent of all suppliers are local. It is something that we are very deliberate about.
Elimination of scratch cards was an era. What influenced the move?
Our vision as MTN is to lead digital for a Brighter Rwanda. We want to make sure that everything that we do is for the benefit, development and growth of the country. We see ourselves as playing a huge role and having a large responsibility to further some of the causes that the State has.
Apart from having a digital and cashless agenda, we knew the State, also holds “going green” as very important.
We had a reflection on how we can contribute to this by further reducing the paper and plastic footprint. Over the years we have grown in terms of electronic top-ups through our agents or by customers self-serving through Mobile Money. At the beginning of the year, we were shy of about 10 per cent of airtime being done by scratch cards. We then took the bold step to set the example for the industry and discontinued the scratch card knowing that we have gained maturity in the electronic and digital airtime systems.
What will be MTN Rwanda’s priorities and areas of focus for the remaining part of 2020?
A huge focus for us is to provide a great network experience. We know that during the lockdown period, our network was congested in certain areas due to a drastic and unforeseen shift in usage. For that reason, we will continue working tirelessly to expand the network. You will probably see us in the next couple of months making announcements on areas that we are going to enter.
We will also continue in our quest to drive digital. Mobile Money expansion remains key, so we will continue onboarding MoMoPay merchants. We also expect to launch the MoMo API before the end of the year that will allow application developers to integrate into, and expand the Mobile Money Ecosystem. In addition, digital solutions such as Ayoba and Connected Home will also continue to evolve in functionality.
We are also maintaining the commitments we have made to the communities that we serve, through the MTN Foundation. You should as such expect to see continued contribution in the areas of youth empowerment, education and Government priorities, despite the current business climate.
Anything else you would like to add?
A huge appreciation to our customers, as a service provider, we are only as strong as the people who trust us, so thank you.Follow https://twitter.com/ByCollinsMwai