Reading the GSMA report on the future of Mobile Money Agent Distribution Networks

Reading the GSMA report on the future of Mobile Money Agent Distribution Networks
August 26, 2018 Optimetriks

The GSM Association (GSMA) is the industry body of all mobile operators across the world. Through its Mobile Money Programme it publishes regularly insights on the Digital Financial Services space and is often an useful source of information to get best practices and benchmarks.

In its latest copy, it focuses on a topic that is keen to Optimetriks: distribution, or more specifically how to manage mobile money agent networks efficiently, and what are the innovations in that field that providers should take note of.

Setting the background

Before a full digital ecosystem is put in place, which is starting to happen in Kenya with M-Pesa, Mobile Money operations are still heavily relying on agent based transactions cash-in and cash-outs. For most mobile money providers, cash-out still represent around two thirds of the revenue, followed by P2P and Bill Payments. Which means ensuring agents are well supplied in float and cash is critical to serving the customers. What is named Agent network management is typically made up of the following activities. The report reviews the technology impact of each of them.

Digitised on boarding

As part of the Know Your Customers procedures, it is required to record identification information on the agent, its ID, an acceptance of the Terms and Conditions, etc. These processes are usually manual, with physical papers that need to be gathered at the head office to create the agent in the system. This can be led to long lead times of up to 1 month, not to mention the cases where papers get lost..It causes frustration to the agents that want to start the business, have put money aside, and cannot operate because of paperwork.

The way forward is therefore to implement digitised on boarding, where the KYC forms and other documents are scanned/captured in picture through a simple app or WhatsApp and then shared with the back office. “New processes include digitising paper application forms and contracts, and using and sharing data collected during the application process to improve compliance and monitoring”. Another dimension is also to leverage the data analytics to ensure agents are recruited only in areas where more agents are needed, to avoid cannibalisation of revenue in the areas. Ideally agent recruitment objectives need to be site at the most granular level, the cell/Base Station.

More efficient agent training

Mobile Money services can be quite daunting to understand, with plenty of shortcodes, transactions and fees to remember. The agent is the key intermediary that spread the word to the customers. It is much more effective to have a well trained and knowledgable agent force than to invest in large billboards to educate the customers.

Yet ensuring thousands of agents are well trained is a challenge, especially as one agent line or outlet can be in fact handled by multiple tellers/people, that can change regularly as they are employed.

Here again, digital tools can help in the form of tutorial or content being included in an app. That ensures that the sales team who visit the agent go through this knowledge list and convey the right info

Upon verification, a certification can then be made that this particular teller/agent has been trained, and frequent check ups to be scheduled.

“E-learning approaches are helping to improve retention and learning through virtualisation and gamification. Providers are also able to conduct training assessments and measure the effectiveness of their training for the first time.”

Field staff monitoring

Most mobile money providers employ field team, called sometimes Trade Development Representatives, to recruit new agents or engage with them. This is needed especially in the first phases of the activity when agents need a lot of support, and guidance. It also enables to keep the satisfaction level high, by providing them with support, the appropriate branding, checking their performance and the ones of the competitors, their compliance, etc.

Yet, field teams is an expensive investment, that needs to be monitored to yield a full impact. Indeed, they can pretend to visit, but spend their days at home, or only visit agents in a certain area, not developing the full area they have been assigned.

This is where technology can be helpful. All the parameters that are used to determine their salary/commissions need to be evidenced by an app activity: number of visits, number of unique agents visited, % of agent portfolio covered, hours of work, route compliance, etc.

An app such as Optimetriks’ tracks the GPS location and captures all these dimensions. It is important to present it also as an opportunity to earn more, rather than just a policing tool.

“Agent monitoring can be a complex and sometimes tedious process, especially in geographically dispersed agent distribution networks. Data analytics and dashboards can create real-time visibility and useful benchmarks for agents, field staff, and head offices. In addition, mobile apps and conversational interfaces through social media can bridge distances by facilitating easier transmission of realtime information with head office, and improving communication between field staff and agents and between agents themselves.”

Back office issues

Finally, it is often shocking when going on a field visit and talking to agents to discover that they have basic issues that prevent them from working. Among the top situations are a mistake in a transaction that needs to be reversed, a PIN to reset, an inquiry about commissions, etc.

Usually agents reach out to their sales supervisors who pass the information by email or Whatsapp to the back office. That becomes ineffective when there are hundreds or thousands of things to track, and it gets resolved on a Last in First Out process, where things that are the most recent are dealt with, pushing back older issues..

That can be solved by a ticketing tool, which keeps track of all the single problems. And tickets can be typically created through an app such as ours and then linked to an online ticketing tool.

Towards a fully digital distribution platform

This report then draws a useful phasing on the activities in agent network management according to the maturity of the business and draws some perspective in how distribution will look like in the future