Full Disclosure: I've recently been working on a project involving MTN's Mobile Money. In fact, this is probably more than full disclosure, it’s a reason for this post.
The purpose of this long overdue post is to outline why Mobile Money has become important to me. Views expressed here are my own and are not endorsed by anyone other than me.
The thing about colonialism is that it forces inequality. It creates infrastructure for the people in power, and while that infrastructure is sometimes shifted as revolution happens, more often it does not. This infrastructure, whether social, mechanical, educational or otherwise often requires fundamental shifting in order for a more equal society. While this may be obvious in most spaces, one of the largest areas that I personally forgot about is financial infrastructure.
A convenience that many of us, in fact I’d almost guarantee all of the people reading this, take for granted is access to internet banking. In your day-to-day life, an incredible amount of time has been saved with the introduction of internet banking. No more queues, no more having to travel to the bank, no more giving up productive time because you have to send money home to your family, pay your bills or face other financial realities that you don’t really want to deal with anyway. Many of us have forgotten how difficult analogue banking is. Queuing has become such a problem in some countries that legislation has been put in place to try and mitigate some of the time-wasting.
Hundreds of potentially productive, potentially money earning hours, every month, are spent doing nothing but waiting in lines, or trying to get the very base thing we need to survive. As a country we waste so much time, effort and money because we don’t know any better. As a country we suffer the effects of this, from
So what’s this got to do with me, or you, or anything? We’re technologists, aren’t we?
If there's one thing we know about technology it is that it makes our world smaller, and while that's been important for stock brokers [ref: High speed trading] and Diablo III gamers, we've somehow forgotten to embed these technologies in areas of need. Our technology gap has been widening, causing further inequalities, and if I become a little emotionally vulnerable, I feel that part of that is my fault.
Those of you that have read through this blog in the past may have noticed a deep anxiety with regard to how I, just me, a simple man, can help the world. I've dabbled in different technologies at different levels but everything I've done has ended up being some form of entertainment or another. It has always deeply bothered me that as much as I work hard, and try to be valuable to the companies that pay me, that those companies are not about more than surviving as companies themselves.
Jump to TYME Capital - http://www.tyme-capital.com
This is where I’m currently working, spending time trying to understand how people interact with the Mobile Money product, a product that has been seeded out of solving some of the problems with financial inclusion in South Africa. A product that has no charges for holding the account, and only charges for transfer fees if you’re off the MTN network (at a price of R1.00 per transfer).
These are some are the most brilliant and driven people I have ever worked with. They won me over quickly. Here is a group of people working on the ground with people in order to introduce them to a world that will save them time, and money. Here is a group of people that really work with a focus on the systemic effects of what they are doing, with a clear vision and value set..
In the last few days I've been sitting in meetings that have taught me a ridiculous amount about how the informal economy actually operates. The bulk of my life I've been so far removed from the problems that I've been trying to solve that it's inevitable that I thought it was hopeless to solve them. Mobile Money is actively working to create financial inclusion in a country that needs it direly.
I've interfaced with a number of Steve's from bleep-banks over the last several months, and I've been left feeling cold and separated. I think this is because banking in general has lost its way. It's easy to lose your purpose as you get older, companies and individuals are similar like that. Banking has, through its variety of products and silo'd departments, lost a bit of what their point is. Money has become the lifeblood of almost everything we do. Name me one successful company that doesn't have a CFO? It's like oxygen to a company. Yet there are about 5.5 million unbanked individuals that are eligible for bank accounts in South Africa.
I've spent my fair share of time whinging about the state of the country, but I haven't done anything that matters. I think that there's an opportunity to do something here though. I'm not saying that by providing the infrastructure we'll suddenly make everything right overnight, but we can slowly shift the state of our environment by being inclusive in our financial systems. We can spend more time helping people to engage with us on the levels that they're being forced to engage with us on. The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed, and we should focus on which bits are the important bits to be distributing first.