Queuing, alive and well in South Africa...

Written by Liz Galpin Friday, 01 July 2011 13:27
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This blog from Bankelele, venting his frustrations at having to queue at the Kenya Revenue Authority caught my eye, and definitely reinforced what I wanted to blog about this week

And he is Kenyan, the home of M-PESA and Mobile money! Surely a ‘Pay Bill’ solution MUST be possible here!

Turning to South Africa then, as I was there last week…..on holiday visiting friends and family, but keen to learn more about the changes and developments in the country since I was last there two and a half years ago. Since my last trip, S Africa has hosted a very successful World Cup, M-Pesa has been launched and I know that  S Africans are gadget mad, so I was determined to get out and about and learn and see ……

Standing in a queue to pay bills in Africa is time-consuming for the majority of those people without bank accounts and online banking facilities. I can remember the weighty responsibility of having to pay the monthly ‘post office’ bill (telephone account) and ‘municipality ‘ bill (electricity and rates), because my school was relatively close to both those buildings. That was back in the seventies. Last week in South Africa I asked my sister-in-law how she paid her monthly bills (she had received an SMS reminder to pay her electricity, which worried her slightly), and she assured me that she used internet banking to pay all her bills, including utility bills, as well as to pay an allowance into her daughter’s account. That came as no surprise – South Africa has always been at the forefront of banking, when it came to providing services to the Banked population.   I noticed from the (very informative) M-PESA leaflets in South Africa that ‘Pay Bill’ promises to be introduced shortly.

We went on to talk about how the people she employs who have no bank account typically transact and do business. First question – how do they pay their electricity bills? Next one – do they need to send money home to family out of town? Have to say that the answers surprised me somewhat, but as I haven’t lived in S Africa for 18 years, during which time a lot has changed; hence the need for the questions.

Electricity Bills – apparently many of these just go unpaid. This view was reinforced by the adverts I heard on the radio, emphasising that non payment of electricity bills is stealing and requesting people to report anyone they know who isn’t paying up! One solution to this has been the provision of Prepay electricity meters – all new developments now have prepay meters containing SIM cards, which can be topped up using a shortcode. The electricity rate for prepay meters is cheaper than the post pay method. I thought this was a novel way of tackling the situation, but that still leaves a lot of houses on post-pay meters. The practice of tapping into electricity supply to get illegal power is upsettingly common, with lives being lost in the (very dangerous) process.

Send Money Home – the tradition of young people leaving their villages to go and work in towns and cities is still very much  the norm, with the expectation that they will send money back to their families.

Doing a little bit of research, I can see that S Africa has a population of around 50 million people. Vodacom leads the way in terms of their subscribers, with around 26.3 million customers, and MTN the second largest at 19.2 million customers. Both of those MNOs are in the top 10 in Africa, so mobile penetration in South Africa is good. South Africa ranks first in Africa and 17th in the world in terms of the number of mobile-phone users. In addition, the use of mobile phones has enabled a greater service to rural areas at a lower cost than that of installing fixed lines, and it would seem as though the prepay model dominates. The same compelling ‘send money home’ need exists in S Africa as it does in Kenya, and a means of dealing with bills, replacing the ‘money under the mattress’ and replacing payment of wages in cash exists. So, there is no reason why M-PESA cannot be the success in S Africa as it has been in Kenya. Maybe something else will come along? An open system? Willing to bet the solution will be mobile based….

South Africans are innovative, entrepreneurial and creative,  so I’m going to continue to watch closely what happens in South Africa in the mobile wallet ‘space’.


Last modified on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 14:02

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