Part 1: Mobile banking 101 Version 0.09895439

Posted in General on December 6, 2013 by newideasconsult

The title to this post is somewhat hopeful, but bare with me as we go through some of my learning of the past 10 years. Let’s first qualify what we mean by mobile banking by asking some questions first:
1. Is mobile banking a need or a convenience to your customers?
2. Is the mobile channel a legitimate tool to expand your customer base?
3. Are you aligned as managers in what your mobile strategy should be?
4. Have you identified your lowest common denominator to address with this strategy?
5. Have you determined how you would measure the success of this strategy?
6. Does the strategy get you to your goal and satisfy your customer’s needs too?

Six basic questions to get us started. Let’s work through them measured against some of my experiences the past decade.

1. There is clearly a huge difference between the developed and developing economies in how we view banking and specifically mobile banking. I refer to this as ‘the convenience vs need’ challenge. In most of the developed countries the mobile channel grew in strength due to its convenience factor. Why visit a branch or a store or an outlet when you can simply turn to your phone to access the same information or service or item. We do this everyday often subconsciously selecting our channel of convenience depending on our circumstance or trust levels. In banking this is most obvious with many of us choosing the convenience of mobile banking over Internet or branch banking for basic transaction types, whilst we choose to do more complex transaction types on the Internet browser or in a branch. So as managers within the financial services industry we market our mobile channels as tools of convenience.

In developing economies and very evident in Africa where I am active the mobile channel is essential to many people as it is most often the only connection or channel they have. In the major urban centers it may be true that mobile is still a matter of convenience due to the presence of bank branches and ATM/POS networks, but this quickly becomes a matter of need as one reaches the rural areas where the bulk of the un-banked market resides. Planning your mobile banking features then becomes quite critical as you need to first understand the needs of both the convenience user and the needs user. Whilst they have some common requirements, both have unique needs you will have to fulfill to remain relevant in their lives.

Throw into this mix of BANKED / UNDER-BANKED customers the huge UN-BANKED market, and you realize quite quickly why carefully planning ‘who’ you wish to address and ‘how’ is so important. Critically you cannot approach mobile banking as a ‘me too’ project or you will be relegated to yet another failed or failing offer in the market. You have to understand your market, their needs and requirements of a service like you wish to offer and your ability to serve them with a reliable offer at a market relevant cost.

2. You may feel this question is silly considering the masses using mobile versus the few using Internet or branch today, but it is certainly key to anyone’s strategy. If you are a bank, you cannot develop a mobile banking and or mobile money strategy without some idea of how to bring the under-banked or un-banked portion of the channel’s users into the mainstream bank customer base. It simply is good business, yet few banks have mobile strategies that consider the one program a feeder for the other. Maturing your customer base into fully banked customers through whom the bank can maximize revenues, is in my mind one of the most critical reasons for a successful mobile banking / mobile money strategy. Unless you can figure out how to bring the under-banked and or un-banked market into the banked customer base for your institution, your mobile banking / money program will always run as two separately defined and measured projects, one addressing your own customer base, and most often the other addressing the masses of un-banked with a free lite version of your banking app, usually because your government has forced this on you through legislation, and never the two shall meet…

Let’s for the sake of this example consider your mobile banking strategy as the means to enrich the lives of your existing customer base ((under-)banked customers), and your mobile ‘money’ strategy as the means to satisfy legislation or a social program to reach the un-banked. The banks who seem most successful in mobile banking (in Africa banks such as GT Bank in Nigeria and FNB in South Africa) design the two strategies as one, using one as a feeder to the other. Using your mobile strategy to grow your actual customer base (increase the banked customers for your institution) is a key to success. For example your mobile banking product for your existing customers could have and should have a breakout feature in it to serve people who may not be a customer of yours at the moment. Usually this would be family, friends and business associates of the actual customer who can be paid by the customer through the mobile banking app. This is one of the easiest ways to reach people who would never usually set foot in your branch. The best way to enable them is to allow them access to these funds or payments by using your mobile ‘money’ app, a lite version of your mobile banking app that will enable access to card-less ATM withdrawals (for example) so that they can receive their payments in cash and more importantly present to these non-banking customers easy ways in which to spend the funds just received to their and your benefit, for example selling discounted airtime / short term insurance products / micro loans or sending some funds to another recipient again by accessing the bank’s mobile ‘money’ app.

There are many reasons to use mobile channels for your customers, but even more reasons to use it for people who are not your customers. Once they have become used to the mobile ‘money’ app because they are paid or benefited through it by your own customer base, encouraging them with further discounted value added services, micro loans and insurance benefits and so on, to switch to a proper account and access to the more sophisticated mobile banking app is the nirvana moment for your mobile banking program. This is where a proper mobile banking strategy becomes fully justified, not just as a tool of convenience or essential banking needs, but as a proper customer acquisition tool for your bank.

We will pause this post here and continue next week with Part 2, where we will discuss questions 3 and 4. Feel free to post your own views and opinions here anytime.

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Business 101

Posted in General on April 3, 2011 by newideasconsult

As the new business year starts I’m reminded of some basic principles that seem so often to be forgotten or applied topsy-turvy. You set a goal for yourself your team your unit or your business. You develop a plan of how this can be achieved (your strategy). You determine what this plan will cost to implement (your budget). You review your goal against your budget, and adjust for the possible (your forecast – revenue, margin, estimated GP). Seems a simple process, but often habit or circumstance or ignorance leaves you setting budgets before coming to grips with a goal or working through the mechanics of your strategy. Often this results in frequent reforecasts or adjustments, and when large enough can cause some serious explaining to your boss, your manager, your board, your shareholders or worse, your partner (my wife in my case…).

I really recommend a calm early approach to the new year, full of circumspection of the past year, honest reviews of achievable goals and detailed strategic sessions to determine just what it will take to reach your goal/s. Then build your budget with the single focus on enabling that strategy.

Linkedin’s latest record – 100 million members!

Posted in General on March 25, 2011 by newideasconsult

I joined as member 153242 after discovering a community of trusted business contacts at Linkedin.com. Now they grew to a business network of over 100 million members! That is just fantastic though I guess the employment agents would be more excited about that than most!

Congratulations LinkedIn!

Integrated transaction platforms

Posted in General, Innovation, technology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2010 by newideasconsult

With online technology developing quite aggressively we have an ideal opportunity to design and commission all-inclusive solutions for enterprise clients. You can also define this as multi level x-commerce solutions, where the traditional x-store or x-mall or multi-store customer facing platform is completely integrated with the transaction processing platform.

Having one platform that integrates all the required components for environments with a high volume of transactions to operate with the minimum external assistance makes me quite heady.  For example imagine a system that starts out day one with an integrated eBay, PayPal and Skype module.  Having the time to work out each component’s role with the platform, clearly defining where data can be shared within a common database, and setting out combined parameters for a smooth UI, and so on, could start us off on a whole new path in regards to x-commerce.

There are so many advantages to such an initial integrated model not just from a technology point of view, but also in terms of operations.  One view of a customer, one process to resolve disputes, one fee recipe to determine all revenue contributors in a transaction from end to end, and so on and so on.  Are there examples of such combined and integrated solutions already?

Vaporware, the age old technology scam

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2010 by newideasconsult

I have a real pet peeve, and its solutions being offered to customers that simply do not yet exist or do only a part of what they should, vaporware in other words!  It’s been a bane for me for years, way back during the old Netscape vs Microsoft wars, then during my tenure at ICL, and since when consulting with clients and seeing just what their suppliers try to sell them. The issue with vaporware is that it starts with dishonesty, a sale to a customer based on fictitious features that then leads to shifting delivery dates and higher budget demands whilst the vendor tries to ‘finish’ the product at the customer’s expense.

I have no problem with the concept of selling components to customers that then needs customization once purchased.  In fact this modular approach we apply in the transaction management software we developed.  It makes sense to build components or modules into a platform that then needs customization for a customer, as opposed to writing a fresh solution from scratch every sale you get.  There is logic in approaching software development in such a way.

Time and again tenders or quotes are awarded on the back of dubious claims by solution providers, and it is the client who ends up with a raw deal.  The current economic climate does not help either as everyone seems even more desperate for business.  A bad situation is just made worse, and we should not stand for it.  As consultants though the task is ours to evaluate those solutions and manage the client and supplier’s expectations.  Tough when time lines and budgets tighten around you, but necessary if the client is to have a fair deal.

Developing a smart vendor evaluation process is a first step in the right direction, and it needs to be a process that keeps up with the fast changing world we live in.  We all know the basic questions to ask, but often we weigh them incorrectly leaving us with a short list of the usual candidates, to the exclusion of new dynamic solutions who may be looking for their first project, but have no references or solutions with a different approach because we were too vertical in the type we were looking for, and so on.  A flexible approach with a framework of core requirements and an openness to fresh ideas is not an easy balance to find I agree, but there seems to me to be no other option.  Technology changes so quickly these days that being too rigid in weighting your supplier evaluations or being to casual in your selections could cause your client financial pain and an incompatible outcome.

virtual payments nirvana

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2010 by newideasconsult

I often converse with companies and individuals seeking to ‘reach the un-banked’ through various technology solutions, either based on cards, ‘e-wallets’ or mobile phones, and am quite surprised when during the conversation the issue of where the cash for such solutions would be processed is met by some confusion or inaccurate responses by those very business people.  I specifically state it like I do, because ultimately no matter how ‘sexy’ or ‘sophisticated’ or ‘uncomplicated’ such a solution sounds, it always needs bank accounts behind it.  The unbanked will still need a place where cash is loaded and dispensed and those funds found within this solution will still be settled into and out of the solution owner’s own transactional (bank) accounts under customers instruction.  All solutions I have seen and or experienced work this way, though many may hide those bank accounts under several digital layers or they process those virtual account transactions through individual physical bank accounts or combined project bank accounts.  So to call these solutions anything other than banking solutions would be wrong in my opinion.  The line ‘how to reach the unbanked’ would make more sense if it reads ‘how to bank the unbanked’.  This may result in more regulatory appreciation by the ‘non-bank’ owned payment solution providers and their customers in the future, but is that such a bad thing?  It still stuns me that many people use PayPal for example without reading its own T&Cs that clearly define just how little regulation it is required to abide by…  The rush to new technology or the latest fad payment solution should become tempered when merchants and ‘account holders’ alike realize that there is no ‘virtual payments nirvana’, no silver bullet solution for the unbanked, and no ‘easy’ compliance process, though history shows otherwise.  If they are offered such, I would suggest they take a long hard look at the company’s terms & conditions, as well as the regulations they are subject to or not.  ‘Access to cash’ is what technology either makes easier, cheaper, more difficult or more expensive, and most if not all new ‘virtual payment’ services give you access to your own funds or enable you to access digital services using cash. What you as both a customer and a merchant need to figure out is if the choice you made makes your life easier and more risk free, and your banking and or payments less expensive, or not.  Your cash either sits in a bank account in your name or in someone’s else within such solutions, and they are either regulated or they are not.  For many customers, such clarity of the issues comes too late.

Internet strategies for SME’s

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by newideasconsult

Very often, and especially on LinkedIn.com I read about people and companies wanting to start their own online business, and most often they ask for a recommended ‘shopping cart’ or ‘e-store’ software to build their venture on.  Most often too, when you respond to them and ask them for more information regarding what they wish to do, it becomes clear that they wanted to start the plan by securing a good platform, a e-commerce system on which to build their business.

That sounds perfectly logical and for many mom-and -pop type business ideas, the cookie-cutter approach works.  Much like SAP can sort out processes within a company that implements it because it enforces certain rules on them required for it to work correctly, these e-commerce systems will force people to think through what it is they need before being able to launch their business.  Without certain key features being addressed within such a system, the site won’t go into production or won’t work correctly when you try to take it into production.  So for the majority of small ideas for an e-store type business these products will work very well, and I often recommend my favorites to some of these questioning parties.

However, starting with selecting an e-commerce platform when you’ve got an Internet idea, is possibly the worst decision you can make.  We used to say that on the Internet everything and anything is possible, but we try and box them all in similar ‘open source’ or ‘commercial’ e-c0mmerce platforms these days.  Imagine if we accepted that art could only be done on a canvas – we would have some wonderful pieces of art to this day, but we would not have a ‘Sistine Chapel’ or Michelangelo’s ‘David’ or Villa of the Mysteries.

If as an SME you are planning to go on the Internet and launch your e-business there, try and think expansively and plan like the corporates and brands do.  Work out what it is you want to do, what you want to sell to your customers, and how you want them to experience this.  Put together a business plan and a strategy to achieve it online.  You cover the basics, for example, you would need to be ‘connected’ to the Internet to enable your business, you would need to have a payment system or bank connected to enable you to do paid for services or product sales, and you will need a fulfilment service and a customer service, and so on.  But the way you plan your online presence, its shape, its function, its look, and its exposure, all contribute to the customer experience of your idea, your plan, your business.

Once you have these all down on a document, no matter how rudementary, sit down with someone, friend or family or local consultant who are Internet savvy, to work through it with you to grow your idea into a mature model  before looking for an e-commerce system to enable your business.  Only after such an exercise would recommendations for e-commerce systems make any sense to you or have any value for your business.  Planning your e-commerce venture this way enables you to better choose an open source e-commerce platform, a commercial e-commerce platform or a design agency to provide the vehicle on which to launch it.  At the same time you are better equipped to answer the questions the bank or payment processor will ask of you before awarding you an account against which to accept card, e-wallet, and/or ACH payments.

There are more details to the above, but this post is about getting people to sit down and plan their idea out before jumping on the most popular e-commerce platform and trying to force your idea to work through it.