Talking about Mobile Banking in South Africa with Brian Richardson of Wizzit reminds us that marketing a brand requires a consistent message. In that regard, you’ll find the Wizzit YouTube video below similar in content to the audio podcast interview.
However, Brian and I branch into other areas, such as the impact of Apartheid on financial inclusion; even the possibility of a Google, Starbucks or large retailer offering mobile banking in South Africa.
Why are entrepreneurs and large enterprises partnering with businesses in SA? Answer: Africa will have ONE BILLION mobile subscriptions by 2015. By far, it has the most mobile money and mobile banking customers than anywhere else in the world.
Mobile Banking in South Africa
Brian Richardson, Founding Director and CEO of Wizzit Bank, is a man who breathes mobile inclusion for those at the bottom of the pyramid. At the beginning of our conversation, he says: “You can’t be an economic citizen of a country without access to financial services.”
Do the people of South Africa and in seven other countries where Wizzit operates need education to opt in for mobile banking? Not necessarily, Brian says, but they must develop trust in the banks that shunned them for decades. “Who are you, where are you and can I trust you,” ask potential customers.
Banks must be credible in the eyes of the unbanked. People must believe that putting their money into a bank account or mobile money via a cell phone will improve their long-term financial future. That’s the key, Brian says, to financial inclusion in Africa and elsewhere.
Understanding the True Mission of Financial Inclusion
One of Wizzit’s challenges is communicating its goals clearly to partner-banks. Brian says there’s a lot of confusion and hype about financial inclusion. Some envision it as trucks going from village-to-village like wandering ATM’s. Yet true financial inclusion is “disruptive” Players in the movement must understand complex banking regulations in South Africa. For Wizzit, it has to scale and remain viable as it reaches out across Africa and Latin America for customers.
Competition and Marketing Financial Products
Passion and enthusiasm drive successful entrepreneurs. From the beginning, Wizzit hired unemployed people whom they then trained as “Wiz Kids” to sell mobile banking services in rural areas. Having an enthusiastic workforce has helped Wizzit compete in a country dominated by three or four major banks such as Standard and First National. Then they’re outside enterprises, such as IBM, Google, and PayPal, who jockey for position with banking partners.
But the biggest competitor? “Cash,” Brian claims. At least 40% of the public has avoided mobile banking for various reasons. A South African farmer understands the value of money. Hiding wealth under a mattress may appear foolish to some. But giving it to a bank that charges monthly service charges could be seen as a poor decision too.
Wizzit brands itself as a technology company. Its partners process mobile money flowing from cell phone users to merchants. But other technology companies compete for business too, stressing their superior technology to process banking transactions, the lifeblood of every bank. Banks, on the other hand, not only seek technology companies.
They want companies with positive reputations. That’s probably why South Africa’s telco operators have had a significant impact. The public knows them, trusts them and uses their services to purchase cell phone minutes.
Mobilizing the Unbanked by Keeping It Simple
Some things never change. Despite the West’s love affair with smartphones, tablets, and other Web-enabled devices, the people of South Africa use basic feature phones. Transactions occur via mobile SMS that’s integrated with a phone’s SIM card. Wizzit mostly approaches its potential customers face-to-face by setting up kiosks, explaining the benefits of mobile banking to people where they live and getting them to try the service.
Once rural South Africans see the value of enabling their cell phone with the convenience of mobile money transactions, people buy in and spread the word. The people of this distant country see the benefits of using simple cell phones to make sending and receiving money easier. Once hooked, the advantages of existing and new services make mobile banking essential.
Future of Mobile Banking
Brian says in our interview that people in industrial nations are “spoiled for choice.” Here in South Africa and beyond, Wizzit and its competitors reach out to a nation where Apartheid covered up oppression against blacks. Only since the end of this massive racial repression in the early 90’s have black citizens of South Africa seen the welcoming arms of bankers.
It’s estimated that the global market for mobile payments will grow threefold by 2017 to $721 BILLION dollars–more than 450 million worldwide users according to the research firm Gartner. A large percentage of the cash lies in Africa hidden from the eyes of global banking companies.
In our interview, Brian half-jokes about Apple becoming a South African bank. But is it that unbelievable? Brands, like Apple and Coke, have the same stature as mobile operators, banks, insurance companies and large retailers. Walmart has become a global distributor of low-cost merchandise from clothing to food and, yes, mobile phones. It’s not inconceivable that any brand with a well-known name, attracted by the potential profits, to drive its way into new lines of business.
Listen to Brian speak about financial inclusion and mobile banking.
About Brian Richardson
Brian Richardson, the managing director of WIZZIT, has been a partner of Charles Rowlinson, the Executive Chairman of WIZZIT for the last 26 years and brings significant entrepreneurial flair together with sound operational experience, particularly in the field of strategy development and execution and marketing. He holds Bachelor of Commerce (Wits) and MBA (Wits) degrees and has a successful track record in banking and of previously building a very successful international business with worldwide offices.
Earlier posts about Financial Inclusion:
Mobile Financial Inclusion Grows Kenyan Economy
Insurance Financial Inclusion Thrives in Africa with MicroEnsure
This post and podcast are part in a series of articles about financial inclusion. Carol Realini, co-author of “Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid,” celebrates the global pioneers who fostered the growth of financial inclusion. See more on Carol’s Facebook page.