In emerging markets, where most of the world’s 2 billion adults without bank accounts live, the offer of basic financial services has improved over the last years: mobile operators and banks enable customers to store and transfer funds using their mobile phones. Still, developers and digital innovators struggle to reach users in these cash-based markets – who, as a consequence, lack innovative use cases.
How can we foster innovation in financial technology for low-income consumers, through products and services that promote digital financial inclusion? Telenor Group believes the answer to this question is collaboration and to open up.
Accelerating pace of financial innovation
Telenor Group joined the mobile financial services industry in 2009, when they launched mobile money service Easypaisa in Pakistan together with Tameer Bank (now Telenor Microfinance Bank). In 2016, Wave Money – a JV between Telenor, Yoma Bank and First Myanmar Investment – entered Myanmar as first licensed mobile money operator. In total, Telenor serves more than 20,000 active financial services customers in Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
“We are now giving FinTechs and innovators access to our mobile financial services platforms in Pakistan and Myanmar via Open APIs. The local startup scenes in Pakistan and Myanmar bring great solutions with the potential to improve people’s lives. Many of these companies have experienced complex integration processes with large providers, and we were no exception. By using our Open APIs, they can now reduce their effort and cost of integrating as well as accelerate the pace of innovation”, explains Roar Bjærum, Head of Telenor Financial Services.
“Everyone benefits”, he continues, “innovators can monetise and scale their products to the next level, and our customers get access to digital services they could not make use of before”
APIs (application programming interfaces): technology that allows two software programmes to communicate with each other. In the case of mobile money, the API defines the way a developer should write a program that successfully requests services from the mobile money platform. For example, this would allow an application like Uber or Amazon to seamlessly link directly to a mobile wallet instead of a credit card or bank account.
Developer portal for Myanmar
Wave Money, Myanmar’s leading mobile financial services provider, enables its customers to send and receive money and buy airtime via a smartphone app or at one of the 12,500 Wave shops.
In a country where more than 80% of the population does not have a bank account and payments are done almost exclusively with cash, the growing e-commerce and digital services scene was quickly interested in linking to Wave’s system.
Wave already partners with Grab Taxi, the leading ride hailing app in South East Asia, providing Grab drivers with free accounts where they can receive payments. They have also launched “Pay with Wave Money”, a product enabling e-commerce players to plug in payment functionality to their websites and apps.
However, the process was manual and that was not scalable. They then came up with the idea to build the Developer Portal as the first FinTech open API in Myanmar: Merchants can integrate themselves by simply entering specific information and uploading the necessary documents. Hundreds more merchants can now access payment functionality much easier and faster – a significant step towards building a cashless economy in Myanmar.
“When we launched Pay with Wave Money, there was a lot of interest from merchants who wanted to integrate cashless payments to their e-commerce websites and apps. However, the process was manual and that was not scalable. We then came up with the idea to build the Developer Portal as the first FinTech open API in Myanmar, so merchants can integrate Pay with Wave Money themselves by simply entering specific information and uploading the necessary documents. We can now enable hundreds more merchants much easier and faster. This is a significant step towards building a cashless economy in Myanmar,” says Wave Money CEO Brad Jones.
Later this year, Wave Money will host the “Wave Money Merchant Clinic” inviting merchants and developers to interact with Wave Money staff, ask questions, discuss market needs and together pave the way for FinTech innovation in Myanmar.
Wave Money’s Developer portal is available here.
First Asian mobile money hackathon
Telenor Microfinance Bank, which runs Pakistan’s leading mobile money service Easypaisa, has also opened up access to their platform, using the harmonised set of mobile money APIs designed by key industry stakeholders around the globe. This October, together with the GSMA, JazzCash and Karandaaz, Telenor Microfinance Bank invited developers to participate at a mobile money hackathon, a weekend challenge of testing and building solutions connected to merchant and bill payments.
Sharing his thoughts, Shahid Mustafa, President & CEO, Telenor Microfinance Bank said: “We are happy to collaborate with GSMA and other financial sector players to bring the new instalment of global Hackathon series to Pakistan. With high level of Telecom penetration coupled with low banking sector use, Pakistan offers a great opportunity to innovators, looking to use FinTech to enhance banking/financial services use”
13 teams participated and presented their ideas, ranging from e-challan (electronic statutory payment) payments to pay-bots for Facebook Messenger. The winning team proposed a solution geared towards families and the educational sector: it enables parents to directly pay school fees with their mobile phones, to pay for meals at school cantinas and monitor food consumption to ensure a healthy diet, as well as to directly communicate with teachers.
It is too early to know the impact of such third party services on the overall levels of financial inclusion in Pakistan in Myanmar. The high interest and motivation that both Wave Money and Telenor Microfinance Bank meet during their first interactions with the digital community indicates that soon, consumers in emerging markets will have access to a broad set of innovative, inclusive digital services.
Telenor is participating in Financial Inclusion Week 2017, where organisations around the globe join the global conversation on the most important steps to advance financial inclusion.
Find more information here: www.financialinclusionweek.org or join the debate at #FinclusionWeek