28 Oct 2016

AfricaCom Speaker Spotlight - Uber's Timothy Willis

By Amy Turner, KNect365 staff Writer

With Uber racking up over 2 million trips on South African roads in the first six months of last year, in stark comparison to the 1 million trips taken throughout the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa in 2014, the digital giant's popularity has skyrocketed on the continent.

Uber has become a firm part of the South African transportation ecosystem and the term "I'm going to just Uber it" is a widely heard phrase while out and about in the nation's major cities.

I chatted with Uber's Central Operations Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa, Timothy Willis, ahead of his presentation at this year's AfricaCom, about data insights, the unique operating challenges Africa presents and what he's most looking forward to at this year's event.

1. We look forward to welcoming you to AfricaCom next month, you will be delivering the presentation: ‘Uber – the big data company’, what kinds of data and insight is most meaningful to Uber and in your capacity as, more specifically?

In my role as Central Operations Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa, my team focuses on three key areas: (1) Supply Operations, (2) Analytics and (3) Process.

From a Supply Operations perspective, we’re continually monitoring the number of driver-partners that are online and considering whether we need to encourage more to go online, or move to busier areas. We’re always looking at how best Driver-Partners are using our technology and how we can improve that experience. An example of this is Forward Dispatch, which allows drivers who are already on a trip to get another one if their drop-off location and a rider’s pick-up location are at the same place. 

"In any start-up, scaling your processes is really important. The decision on which process to build out and scale is always based on data"

On the analytics and process side, we’re always trying to identify the major challenges of the business and improve our processes to deal with them. In any start-up, scaling your processes is really important. The decision on which process to build out and scale is always based on data. We’re are always analysing data to best understand our business. 

"We’re customer obsessed at Uber"

2. How has Uber been able to leverage its data and analytics to improve customer experience? What has the practical application looked like?

We’re customer obsessed at Uber and that means we are looking through at how we can improve the experience for all riders and drivers on the platform. For instance, a lot of riders requested scheduled rides. We realised there was a business case to scale this product and so today you’re able to schedule a ride with Uber.

"Road networks are not as developed and congestion is a challenge in most of our markets"

3. Uber has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in South Africa which has subsequently spread through Kenya and Nigeria, how does operating in Sub-Saharan Africa differ from that of say the UK and North America?

There are unique challenges to operating in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to the UK and North America. For example, road networks are not as developed and congestion is a challenge in most of our markets. It is our job to overcome these challenges and ensure riders and drivers have a seamless Uber experience. 

"I’m looking forward to seeing how AfricaCom will become a powerful vehicle for digital transformation"

4. What are you looking to gain from attending and speaking at AfricaCom 2016?

I’m excited to see what the audience will think of using data and analytics as a tool to improve the customer experience.

5. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s event?

I’m looking forward to seeing how AfricaCom will become a powerful vehicle for digital transformation, economic development and social empowerment. I’m also you looking forward to interacting with leaders in the industry.

Timothy Willis will be speaking on: Uber - the big data company at this year's AfricaCom, on 16th November 2016. Find out more here.

If you are interested in how tech and telco is enabling socioeconomic development and and innovation on the African continent, why not attend AfricaCom 2016?

Africa's biggest tech and telco event is taking place between the 14th - 18th November at the Cape Town ICC, find out more here.

You can sign up for a free visitor pass to the event here or can book your silver, gold and platinum AfricaCom tickets to all sessions here.

Be part of the African tech and telco conversation, here:

25 Oct 2016

Finance and Commerce on the ‘Mobile Continent’

By Com Series staff writer Kamau Mbote, @First Communications

Over the past few years, mobile money in Africa has largely played the role usually filled by Western traditional banking institutions, with just 20% of the African population having access to mainstream financial systems in 2010. 

Sub-Saharan Africa is rated as having the lowest deposit institution penetration in the world according to a paper by the African Development Bank, Mobile Banking in Africa: Taking the Bank to the People.

Over the years, mobile money has connected millions of people with banking services especially in East Africa, where mobile money is leading other regions of the world and which initially had among the lowest financial inclusion rates globally.

In the early days of mobile money in 2007, only 30% of Kenyans had access to banking services. In other East African countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania AfDB showed that one branch served more than 100,000 people. In Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana a branch served 25,000, 33,000 and 25,000 customers respectively. During the same period in the West African nation of Gabon, only 35 branches were in place countrywide.

With the introduction of mobile money, the populace in these regions embraced this innovation much faster in comparison to areas where the mainstream or traditional financial and banking insitutions were evident.

"Sub-Saharan Africa transfers more money domestically via mobile money than any other region in the world"

More recently, the Global Findex 2015 edition estimates that the number of unbanked individuals globally dropped by 20% in the period 2011 to 2014. In Sub-Saharan Africa to be precise, where 17% remains unbanked, 13 countries have more than 10% of their adult population using mobile money and more people are using mobile accounts than bank accounts in Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. In other countries mobile subscribers can now open bank accounts using the mobile money platform.

According to the report, Sub-Saharan Africa transfers more money domestically via mobile money than any other region in the world, with up to 28% of the population receiving a domestic remittance in 2014.

The Ericsson Regional Sub-Saharan Africa Report noted that mobile money has allowed the 70% of the unbanked and marginalized segments to start to see the promise of financial inclusion across Africa, with mobile operators becoming beneficiaries of this revolution.

The report sites that the leading operators in the region are deriving up to 20% of their revenue from mobile commerce services, improving business prospects even as voice revenue growth slows.

"63% of the total population in Sub-Saharan Africa is unbanked"

Nigeria has the largest share of unbanked currently (53%) followed by Ghana, Angola and Uganda, according to another report by Ericsson, Financial Services For Everyone . In these countries, the report identifies that the level of awareness remains low while only 33% of all respondents said they know how to use mobile money on their mobile phones.

Among consumers who were aware of the services yet chose not to use them, a large proportion commented that they didn’t think the service was necessary or that it seemed too complicated.

According to the report, mobile money services are bridging the gap between the unbanked and banked as more have access to mobile money compared to banking services. The report further shows that 63% of the total population in Sub-Saharan Africa is unbanked and 52% of the total population uses mobile money through an agent.

Connecting the financially excluded through new mobile solutions

Some of the reasons why the majority of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa has been financially excluded or that have led led to low financial inclusion include deficient infrastructure, inaccessibility or physical-geographical isolation and financial illiteracy that ultimately led to high cost of financial services, which out of reach for many potential customers. 

These problems can be solved by using mobile money as devices are now more than ever affordable and do not necessarily require smart devices to deliver these products.

This said there, other challenges still exist that will require more of education than technology as the reasons for individuals lacking banking accounts include: lack of documentation, lack of trust, family member has an account, religious reasons among others.

Building an interconnected and transparent financial ecosystem

There is a consensus that building an interconnected and transparent financial ecosystem involves telecommunication providers and banks ensuring their mobile payment services are: secure, stable, scalable, flexible and above all trustworthy.

A secure, stable, scalable, flexible and trustworthy ecosystem entices quick uptake by customers and ensures business innovation.

In this case, telcos should look to develop systems that allow mobile subscribers to access their bank accounts securely, in a timely manner in a platform that's scalable to include other services financial institutions offer, other than merely cash deposits and withdrawals. 

"M-PESA, the largest mobile money platform globally, has connected more than 20 million Kenyans"

Telcos and banks also need to enable the customer to understand fully all the charges that result from mobile money transactions between the two institutions, as well as challenges or deficiencies that the platform has that could lead to delays, fraud, hacking among other vulnerabilities.

A case in point is M-PESA, the largest mobile money platform globally, which has connected more than 20 million Kenyans and there are more than 100,000 agents and over 44,0000 merchants who accept M-PESA payments. There are more than 40 financial institutions that interconnect with M-PESA and other partners such as government payments, M-KOPA in energy and mTiba in Health.

According to Head of Strategy at Safaricom, Ken Okwero, by linking into M-PESA, each of these partners can tap into the more than 23 million M-PESA customers.

“The larger benefit is however on the customer’s side, where customers benefit from the convenience of different use cases, from person-to-person transfers, cashless payment of bills, or even access to new services that they did not have before, such as: instant loans, micro savings products, affordable health and crop insurance,” Ken Okwero adds.

Achieving interoperability among mobile network operators, banks, merchants and government

Pundits say the benefit of an inter-operable financial services to operators is that it can lead to a mobile money service without limits. According to Ericsson, a leading provider of mobile money solutions software, the key success of mobile money lies in a partnership between telcos and banks, as well as the right infrastructure and financial services portfolios.

“We are driving this change to make money more open by orchestrating collaboration between banks and operators and developing secure, flexible mobile commerce platforms, that help build an interconnected and transparent financial ecosystem,” says Peter Heuman, VP Deputy Head of Business Unit Support Solutions at Ericsson.

"The key success of mobile money lies in a partnership between telcos and banks, as well as the right infrastructure and financial services portfolios"

Telcos and banks must also adjoin their services and products to the needs of government and merchants to support payments, with the public and private sector reliant on each other either for supply of liquidity, goods and services, or even in the line of licensing and regulation.

Some of the ways telcos and banks could enable better and streamlined interaction between government and the private sector, as well as members of the public, is by enabling payments to various agencies by mobile money eliminating the need for cash transactions in government offices.

According to the Global Findex 2015 edition, 1.3 billion adults with an account in developing countries pay their waste removal, water, and electricity bills in cash, and over half a billion adults with an account in developing countries pay school fees in cash, thus access to digital payments through a mobile phone could create opportunities to provide more convenient and affordable payment options.

In a few other countries, the government has already teamed up with various telecommunication service providers to enable payments of licenses and other documents such as birth and death certificates, eliminating the physical need for citizens to physically go to offices.

“The benefit here has been in sealing the revenue leakage, convenience for taxpayers in the form of alternate channels and the ability to pay for services anytime. The capacity to accept electronic payments also enables the government to offer services through digital channels, as we have seen with the roll-out of the eCitizen platform in Kenya,” says Okwero.

How OTT players can collaborate with operators to refine business models

“A balanced co-operation between mobile network operators and Over-the-Top (OTT) players is required to develop a win-win ecosystem as operators cannot be in complete control of the internet ecosystem, while a broadband pipeline that lacks appealing content and applications means little to end users,” said Ahmad Farroukh, Chief Executive Officer at MTN South Africa, while addressing delegates at AfricaCom 2014.

This shows that while telco operators may have control of the mobile money platforms through their huge customer base and financial position, the broad scope of services they provide inhibits them from coming up with new innovative products, a part that can be played by OTT players. Telco operators can then provide the platform at a cost while allowing OTT app providers to own the customer and make money.

For this collaboration to work, mobile network operators and OTT players need to define access and structure a fair deal for both parties. This however does not mean exposing their customer base or revenue streams for OTT players. Such deals can be refined through forums that clearly define rules of engagement.

To this end, a number of telcos in Sub-Saharan Africa have partnered with a number of Value Added Services players that offer content around games, video and music to enable them to tap into operator billing, which facilitates service delivery in a convenient and seamless way to customers.

Above all, Farroukh thinks there can be immense benefits for both OTT players and telcos where the latter continues to invest in technology to provide best customer experience for OTT users.

Mobile Finance and Commerce at AfricaCom 2016:

This year's AfricaCom, taking place between the 14-18 November 2016, will be showcasing all the latest innovations in African mobile finance and digital commerce. The Mobile Finance and Commerce stream taking place over the 15 - 16 November will comprise of Key Note Panels and discussions around the latest FinTech solutions and connecting the financially excluded..

Some of the key speakers include Safaricom's Ken Okwero, Telkom's Floris Buys, African Development Bank's Maimouna Gueye, MTN's Hanlie Smuts and Equity Bank's John Staley.

To find out more about the largest tech and telco event in Africa and book you tickets, click here.

Be part of the African tech and telco conversation, here:

24 Oct 2016

Smarter mobile money through big data analytics

Approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes, or 2.3 trillion gigabytes, of data is generated every day around the world. The full potential of all this information is yet to be discovered with estimates that only 0.5% undergoes analysis, while one in three business leaders make decisions based on insufficient data.

The volume of data available to service providers today is an enormous resource for better understanding the customer base. Data analytics helps overcome potential issues, promotes faster adoption of new services and increases transactions.

Big data and mobile money

The mobile service provider’s access to big data offers a huge advantage over formal financial institutions, who cannot easily tap into their client’s daily life. In defining patterns, trends and links occurring over time, the mobile money ecosystem can unlock hidden value, such as fraud management and credit scoring for financial services.

Graph: How is big data used?

Fraud management

Suspicious behaviour manifests in different ways. Big data analytics link heterogeneous information from transaction data, which enables the service provider to pick up on this behaviour. For example, a series of cash-in transactions to the same account, from different locations, might be an attempt to avoid paying for domestic transfers, or several cash-ins immediately followed by a cash-out could indicate money laundering. There are two methods of reporting for suspicious behaviour. The first is system generated in real time upon anomaly detection, which is then approved or rejected by the fraud analyst. The second requires the fraud analyst to generate a daily report for post-analysis. Best practice states that no actions are purely automated, the fraud analyst always has the final say. This prevents unjustified automatic rejection cases.

Machine learning further complements fraud management processes. In using the past to predict the future, fraud analysts define detection parameters based on normal behavioural patterns from transaction history. As a population’s behaviour evolves over time, the parameters must adapt to remain optimal. In response to this, machine learning predicts a natural evolution of behaviour based on historical data as well as previous actions taken by fraud managers in decision making. It then proposes modifications to the detection model for future anomaly detection.

Credit scoring

Limited access to financial services in emerging countries means that some people aren’t able to generate a financial diary to produce a credit score. This is problematic for a lender needing to rate an individual’s loan repayment capacity. Big data supports credit scoring technology for mobile financial services through in-depth analysis of a subscriber’s records. Here, credit scoring is employed in two ways.

  1. A subscriber wants to receive a loan. Once approached, the agent uses transaction data to decide whether to accept or decline the request.
  2. A service provider wants to offer a credit lending service to a broad section of society. The population’s data is scanned, and categorised according to a given credit score used to evaluate the viability of offering this service to certain categories.

For example, a local farmer needs to invest in crop fertiliser to increase his income, but has insufficient funds to make the purchase. The service provider identifies this common problem as an opportunity to provide a mobile loan service tied to the provision of a product. Before targeting farmers for a new campaign, the service provider uses credit scoring analytics extracted from several sources to determine lending eligibility.

Firstly, the service provider looks at their own data for indicators of trustworthiness, starting with a subscriber’s mobile money transactions and electronic recharge records as these may demonstrate behavioural similarities to a bank account. A responsible borrower may keep their phone topped up to a minimum threshold so they have credit in case of emergency. They may also search information previously provided to comply with customer due diligence. Know Your Customer (KYC) details a subscriber’s age range, noteworthy as those between 30-50 years old are considered mature and healthy enough for responsible lending. When this information is not available, the service provider can obtain additional data from third parties such as financial institutions to complete a thorough assessment.

About eServGlobal

eServGlobal offers mobile money solutions which put feature-rich services at the fingertips of users worldwide, covering the full spectrum of mobile financial services, consulting, mobile wallet, recharge, promotions and agent management. In addition, eServGlobal’s Apeiron tool facilitates data analytics and machine learning for business and liquidity management, including fraud management and credit scoring. For more information please go to eservglobal.com to organise a meeting at Africa Com in hall 4, stand 4G.

If you are interested in the opportunities for big data in Africa why not attend AfricaCom 2016? AfricaCom has a dedicated big data stream looking at data analytics, how data can spur better customer insights and financial inclusion, as well as how data can continue to build Africa's digital future. Find out what's on the agenda here.

Africa's biggest tech and telco event is taking place between the 14th - 18th November at the Cape Town ICC, find out more here.

You can sign up for a free visitor pass to the event here.

You can book your silver, gold and platinum AfricaCom tickets to all sessions here.

Be part of the African tech and telco conversation, here: