“Merchants are the key to drive increased consumer transactions.”

Exclusive interview with Peter Ollikainen, SVP Product Marketing, Mistral Mobile – brand sponsors at the upcoming Mobile Money Africa in
Johannesburg from 27-30 May.

1) Can you give us some background of Mistral Mobile’s business interests in mobile money in Africa?

Africa being the booming area and opportunity space for anything mobile makes it a natural attraction to play in the mobile fintech space. Our company’s legacy lies within Nokia, within Nokia’s Mobile Financial Services business. We were running the business in Nokia and when Nokia decided to exit the mobile financial services domain, we decided to establish our own company. During the Nokia times we were very focused on the emerging markets in general so we have continued on that route with Mistral Mobile as well. We have always felt the mobile financial services industry offers vast potential to do both good for the people in general as well as create a commercial success. We see great opportunity for both in Africa.

2) Which countries do you particularly see as having great potential?

Naturally there are markets where there is a lot going on, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya but then some countries where the mobile financial services are less developed are attractive exactly because of not yet having established solutions.

3) What makes Mistral Mobile competitive in this market?
Our core product Money Mobility Suite allows the financial service to reach all the consumers in the market, independent of their mobile subscriptions and provides very high level of configurability allowing it to be used for wide range of mobilized verticals within the financial industry, and especially providing mobile-based solutions for the agents and merchants and allowing single solution to be used as the mobile front-end for different actors in the ecosystem. We’ve learned in practice how important it is to enable the full ecosystem and not just the consumers.

4) Any specific projects you are very excited about?
All of the ones we are currently working on! This is an exciting industry evolving very rapidly.

5) What are the challenges to implementing mobile money services in Africa?
Some challenges may be due to distribution ie reach of the agent networks to allow servicing large number of potential customers, hurdles being on the required agent servicing tools (e.g. need a PC or POS terminal, or lacking good servicing tools) and cash management side (eg. needs to be close to bank branch).

Then some challenges naturally also come from how to provide the access to the consumers through their own mobiles. There are more and more people who have featurephones and smartphones (esp Android phones) which allow using applications, but then the availability or costs of mobile data may be limiting the potential to use traditional application-based approach.

Also the consumer education in general is always a very important topic. Perhaps sometimes a model where instead of expecting consumer to make the leap and start using all the mobile money services themselves with their mobiles, the model where agent provides the servicing for them as over-the-counter services would work better to drive adoption. We are focusing on solving these problems and enabling best solutions to drive the adoption.

6) What is your vision for the industry?
Everyone will have a personalized financial services experience through their mobiles. As payment instruments, cash will not go away any time soon and there will be increasing number of cards being used. Bank branches will continue to exists, but an increasing number of banking and mobile money agents will be the physical customer servicing points for the people. Mobile will be an integral part of the payment instrument and customer servicing mix; not totally displacing any of the current ones but being complementary and in many cases the preferred way to manage one’s finances.

7) What surprises you about the industry?
Not necessarily any surprises as such, as the industry is evolving and there a lot of things being tried and tested and iterated so you have to always assume there is lot of new type of things going on. Maybe the only point could be that there has not been really a major disruptive innovation as such – the mobile money as a concept itself has been the disruptor in the financial services industry but beyond that a lot of things are iterative and evolutionary.

8)    What will be Mistral Mobile’s message at Mobile Money Africa?
The focus on driving further success should emphasis better solutions for agent networks and merchant enablement. Building a strong ecosystem as a machinery to drive and support much larger user bases and user transactions. Agents are the frontline face of the service towards the customers so that the machinery should work very smoothly. Merchants then are the key to drive increased consumer transactions – transitioning merchants from cash to mobile payment instruments is not easy but it’s a prerequisite to start driving transaction volumes and value to a different level.

9)    Anything you would like to add?
Come and meet us at Johannesburg at the Mobile Money Africa event! And before that make sure to visit us at www.mistralmobile.com and see the various solutions we are providing.

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