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Shared mobile money agents: Does this benefit the ecosystem?

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It’s been reported that the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) has pushed through an order compelling Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile operator, to share its mobile money transfer agents with the other mobile networks.

This regulatory intercede in the Kenyan mobile money space is similar to what we noticed earlier this year in the Zimbabwean mobile money landscape following the local mobile money agent wars.

When Telecel, the country’s second largest mobile operator, launched its own mobile money service telecash, it alleged that the market leader EcoCash, a product of its main rival Econet, was sabotaging any other operator’s access to mobile money agents.

Telecel made a formal complaint to the local telecoms regulator which wound up in the hands of RBZ, the financial services regulator, who in turn barred any operator from entering into exclusive agreements with agents.

Clearly from all this fuss the growth and size of an agent network is key to any hopes of flourishing in the African mobile space. It’s such an important factor for competitive advantage that operators with a mature network had to be whipped into agreeing to “share agents” through regulatory involvement.

Sharing resources, infrastructure and in this case, agents is all part of a big picture approach for growing mobile money in any domain. It has a significant benefit for any other provider who wants to add to the expansion of financial services and the telecoms ecosystem.

Locally we have seen telecash experience an impressive growth following the regulator’s ruling. Even though telecash managed to secure its own additional agent and merchants arrangements, its growth would have likely been less impressive if they had to canvas for new agents completely.

Other mobile money operators will also benefit from this regulated sharing. Try to imagine how much harder it would be for smaller entities like Nettcash.

As the youngest player in Zimbabwean mobile money space, Nettcash is currently carrying out an aggressive agent network growth strategy that involves brand ambassadorship. This alone will not be enough, and knowing that any existing mobile money agent for any other operator can provide their services is a big boost.

All of this focus on sharing in the mobile money space is usually decried by runaway market leaders that go in and invest millions before their competitors. To some extent it sounds unfair for these early executors as well.

However this shared approach is something that is necessary for avoiding monopolies and the inefficient use of resources that can be spent on developing other aspects of the same service.

It’s the same challenge that is evident in broadband and telecoms where operators need to share infrastructure to ensure efficient performance.

If we can have enforced legislation that is swiftly implemented to ensure shared resources for mobile money, why not do the same for telecoms infrastructure?

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