Telecoms expedite move to cash-less economy

Rwanda’s move to cash-less economy could come earlier than expected as telecom firms deploy improved technology to encourage millions of people embrace telephone-based commercial transactions.
Ladies at the launch of Airtel Money. Business Times / Timothy Kisambira.
Ladies at the launch of Airtel Money. Business Times / Timothy Kisambira.

Rwanda’s move to cash-less economy could come earlier than expected as telecom firms deploy improved technology to encourage millions of people embrace telephone-based commercial transactions.

Market leader, MTN Rwanda, last month overhauled its mobile money platform to create what it called “a converged wallet mobile-commerce solution” which analysts say is a quick response to customer preferences and could accelerate attainment of a cashless economy.

Despite delays in stabilising the new system, it now provides subscribers, including mobile phone users that do not have access to traditional banking services, faster money transfer and payment of utility bills.

“We can now pay our bills rapidly or send money to family and friends,” said Steven Apuuli, who subscribes to the MTN mobile money service.

MTN says the new platform has brought efficiency in service delivery.

“We wanted to increase the speed at which people access mobile money, using a USSD code when for SIM card registration. It will also be faster for us when launching new products on mobile money,” said Yvonne Manzi Makolo, the chief marketing officer.

Makolo said the platform had more than one million customers and has handled over $100m (Rwf 66.3b) this year.

MTN is not the only telecom firm that is investing in innovation on its mobile money platform.

Airtel, that launched its own platform, the Airtel Money in June, has more than 150,000 customers and management says the company targets to grow the number to over 400,000 by the end of next year.

Ivan Ntwali, Airtel Money retail manager, told the Business Times that subscribers are able to link telephone accounts with their bank accounts.

 “It means that one is able to move money from his or her Airtel money account to their bank account or vice versa when the person needs to transfer money on his or her Airtel Money account. It’s like a virtual wallet,” he said.

“You can pay your electricity and water bills, DSTV and Star Times.”

Ntwali also noted the latest innovation allows people with access to commercial bank Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) to use them as Airtel Money cash out agents.

“If there’s no agent anywhere and you need cash, the ATM can act as one. What you do is get your phone, go to Airtel Money, choose ‘withdraw money’ and it will then ask you for the Agent code or ATM code. When you put in the ATM code, the system will generate a onetime pass code which comes straight to you in a text message which you then feed to the ATM machine to withdraw money,” he explained.

Ntwali said the innovation allows even customers without bank accounts to use the ATM.

Tigo subscribers are also able to pay for utilities as well services of a pay television channel, Star Times. In September, Tigo launched a service whereby registered up-country travelers can buy bus tickets from anywhere and at anytime of the day using Tigo Cash.

“The product is successful so far and soon we shall make it available to more bus companies,” said Pierre Kaitana, Tigo Rwanda’s communications officer.

Experts say that with all the three telecoms’ platforms now linked to the National Bank of Rwanda, mobile money clients are now more able to use mobile phones to carry out financial transactions including payment of commodities without holding cash. Through the use of mobile phones, the country looks set to attain financial inclusion for a big population that remain outside the formal financial sector.

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