Mobile Money in Pakistan and beyond

This week I traveled into Karachi, Pakistan for the annual Mobile Commerce summit. This year the title sponsor was UBL (United Bank Limited), a new entrant to the Mobile Financial Services domain and one egger to follow in the foot steps of fellow domestic competitors MCB Mobile and easyPaisa. 

This annual event is always a delight to attend and easily pulls Mobile Financials Services heavy weight Hannes van Rensburg, CEO of Fundamo. Pakistan has been good for Fundamo, we have seen great success from two very different approaches to the market. But what impresses me most about Pakistan is showing what has been labelled "The Perfect Storm", a timely coming together of a number of market dynamics in a way that no other country in the world has managed, including Kenya. The country has any number of progressive thinking bankers sitting next to a banking regulator keen to enable healthy competition, in market with all the right demographic indicators. It also had a Telco with a crystal clear vision of how Mobile Money would succeed in Pakistan's unbanked population. The result is two highly successful businesses that openly recognize they have each targeted different segments of the market and that long term, their ecosystems must interact to drive mainstream adoption. Today MCB Mobile & Easypaisa are the benchmark in Pakistan which has inspired action from many of Pakistan's other players.

Another first for the industry was the opening panel session, which saw the Deputy Governor of the State Bank sit next to the Director of the PTA (Pakistan Telecom Authority) and then proceed to publicly speak of real cooperation and a vision for creating a positive healthy regulatory market that not only enables those wishing to enter the Mobile Money space, but also foster healthy competition without creating a fragmented market. Something I am positive was music to the ears of the VISA delegates at the summit.

A true highlight was hearing the story from Zahir on Roshan's Mobile Money journey in neighboring Afghanistan. A country completely war torn after 30 years of war. A country with almost non-existent infrastructure, no land lines, only 45 ATMs of which 43 don't work, very few roads and a hugely informal cash based financial ecosystem. Roshan's journey through this not only opens your eyes to the pure simple perspective of the world as an Afghan, but it also reminds you not to take basic things for granted. Such was the case when Roshan realized that 70% of the Afghan Police Force were illiterate, and hence couldn't read the SMS that told them that their salary had been paid. Or that the police force salary would go up to 35% simply by removing the middleman.

Zahir also spoke of industry evangelist Jan Chip Chase, who recently jumped on a motorbike with a camera and a translator to deeply engage the Afghan people in an effort to understand their needs. Coupled with Jan's amazing photographic skill, this turns out to be one of the most captivating market case study you'll ever read. (The Mobile Frontier A research project that I am sure his former employer's, Nokia, security policies would have frowned upon. Speaking of which, Nokia's Mobile Financial Services unit popped up at the summit with an interesting insight into their vision for bringing enriched customers experience and the value of a handset manufacturer to the Mobile Money ecosystems of Pakistan. Does this mean Nokia Money is coming to Pakistan?

All in all the summit was a positive injection of industry excitement and evidence that even the world's most advanced Mobile Financial Services market is still looking for ways to raise the bar and continue to push to be a benchmark for other countries.

Lastly, a huge thanks goes out to Owais Zaidi from Access Group, who took us out on a local food adventure. Where my taste buds and tummy were shown Nihari with brain and marrow, Rubberi on Burns Road and the famous Paan stalls, the clean versions of course. Adventures like these are key for international professionals to get out of the Hotels and fancy restaurants to see exactly how the locals live.

I look forward to next year, and encourage those in the industry to try and make time to visit Pakistan.