Interview: Cellulant’s drive into the B2C mobile VAS space

L.S.M Kabweza Avatar

Last week, Cellulant launched a USSD service allowing Zimbabweans to buy electricity tokens, ADSL internet and in future other bills from their phones by just dialing *365#. We had the opportunity to discuss the company’s new drive – both the local and as a continental company – to expand into the B2C market. The company has up to now been mostly working B2B with banks and mobile network operators to provide bank branded mobile value added services.

We spoke to Wendy Ajuwon,  ‎the Cellulant’s Group Marketing Growth Manager, Angela Centra, the country manager for Zimbabwe, and Tatenda Furusa, the Zimbabwe client engagement manager. Here’s the edited interview:

Techzim: First a brief background on where you are coming form as a group
Angela Centra: We are Africa’s leading digital payments provider by virtue of being connected to merchants, banks and mobile network operators. Our ethos is to enable them to be more easily connected to their customers and those customers to get better value from them. So in a sense it’s not really a push into B2C but a continuation of what we already do.

TZ: Like what services that you already provide in the B2B space? A quick example
AC: We have focused primarily on building platforms and ecosystems to enable banks to serve their customers. An example is a mobile banking service. We have also build a mobile payments gateway that allows merchants to receive payments from mobile money and banks.

TZ: the the expansion into B2C. Why now and what is that going to look like
The ethos of our business is to deliver value to the end user. So the question is, how do you easily make payments as a customer. Sometimes that means getting a simple service such as *365# and you can pay your electricity. It’s about simplicity and convenience.

But also we’re not moving away from our B2B because that’s still a big part of who we are.

TZ: What kind of split is that in terms of percentage business between B2B and B2C?
The way we’re structured as a business right now I’d say 90% of the business is B2B.

TZ: How fast do you see  this expansion into B2C growing over the next year?
Wendy Ajuwon: Our strategy within the company is to become a billion dollar business on the African continent, which means we need about 100 million customers transacting at least a dollar every month.

TZ: So that’s a continent wide strategy. How does that look like at a Zimbabwe country level
 It’s a pan African vision. And Zimbabwe sits in Africa but when you look at Zimbabwe as a market it’s at the crux of high mobile money growth and low banked population. Customers are having to queue to pay school fees. They withdraw money from bank X to pay bank Y. These challenges exists in all markets. Zimbabwe is not different in that perspective to other African markets; In Africa 65% of the population is unbanked.

TZ: So how big a deal is this expansion to B2C is. What will Cellulant look like a year from now?
AC: It’s a big deal for us. Even to make entry into this market we had to take time to understand the Zimbabwean customer; how they want to make payments. Right now we have prepaid ADSL and electricity on *365# and you’re going to have other ISP services for WiFi hotspots for example.

A year from now you will be able to see all the billers. You will also be able to nominate billers you want to see when you get into the menu. You will also see a visible Cellulant brand in the market. More publicity. We have a singular across all African markets.

TZ: So right now, mobile operators through their mobile money services, offer more billers than Cellulant. How is this therefore better than what’s already there?
They do offer more. What we have done is take away some of the pain points, like having to remember your account number, having to remember a pay bill string. When I’m sitting at home making a payment, I need to have it written down somewhere. That’s a problem. There are too many things that a customer needs to do to make a payment. What *365# has done is to take away some of that pain.

Some of things you will see on 365 is that the first time you give us the meter electricity number we will profile it and you can nominate it as a biller that you pay often. And you can do the same for the other bills as well.

Compared to the mobile operators, just our focus on payments as well is a plus for us.

WA: Our brand is that One Stop Shop that centralises bill payments. All these different bills and all these different mobile wallets that people have on one platform.

TZ: Are you looking to launch an App or it’s just USSD. How ready is the market for an app.
In the near future we will be launching other products like apps yes. 

USSD is great in that it doesn’t leave out any user. Any user whether they have a smartphone or a mbudzi phone (dumb phone) can make their payments and they are not left behind. An app on the other hand allows you to transact when you’re out of the country.

TZ: You mentioned Zimbabwe’s push into plastic money. Is it a coincidence that Cellulant emerging into the B2C market at the same time or these were existing plans? How are you looking at the cash crisis in that regard?
 As a payments provider we are doing this across all markets. is it good that we’re in Zimbabwe while this is happening right now? Definitely. But on the same token this is not a “Oh my God, Zimbabwe is getting interesting”.

AC: yes, we’ve been building and developing this for a while.

TZ: Who’s your competition in Zimbabwe?
We don’t have competition. Nobody in Africa does what we do for the amount of people that we serve. We’re in 12 African countries.

TZ: So maybe not in the business sense but in a “What are people doing now that you would like to them to change and use Cellulant services for”?
Cash payments is our biggest competition.

Tatenda Furusa: 80% of the payments in Zimbabwe prior to now (the cash crisis) were largely cash payments. And that’s something we found across Africa.

WA: So even if you look at the way we buy airtime, we go to the guy down the street and give him cash. So yes, cash is the largest competitor and for us the opportunity is to convert those cash payments to digital.

TZ: So in a business sense, whoever is also trying to solve that problem – the use of cash  for payments – is your competition. Maybe not directly?
I would not say they are our competition. If you look at our ecosystem proposition, at some point they might be a collaboration coz we building an ecosystem for everyone to more easily do what they do. Interoperability is something that has been an issue.

Really I’d say we’re Africa’s largest digital payments provider. We are already serving 40 million users and I don’t see anyone who is our competitor in that sense.

TZ: But in terms of B2B being 90% of your business, these are not your customers, no? they are your banks’ customers.
No – we talk of touching the lives of 40 million people. We’re not going into the market saying these are our customers but we touch their lives by working through the bank partners and mobile network partners. An example is in Nigeria where we were able to serve some 14 million farmers to deliver subsidies and we were able to increase the Nigerian GDP with $30 billion contributed to Nigeria’s GDP. It would be easy to say we just serve agro-dealers, but we serve the farmers. So directly and indirectly, we touch the lives of those people.

One response

  1. Imanga

    Great interview. Funny they won’t admit that there is competition. Yes they are the biggest but even giants can fall. We’ll see anyway. These are exciting times in African e-commerce for sure. We are still trying to figure out their strategy for entering Zambia B2C using the internet. We anticipate a ussd platform soon nonetheless.

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