Monday, March 07, 2011

Mobile operator competition, rather than cooperation drives mobile money

In the establishment of a payment dispensation, it is important to consider the size of the payment community. Closed loop payment systems catering only for a few payment participants are doomed to fail as it would only be relevant for a few payments. This is why it is important to create a payment community that is as big as possible.

As mobile operators start to recognise the relevance of mobile payments, it would be to their advantage if they can create larger communities that will accept the same payment instrument. The bigger these communities are and the better the cooperation, the bigger the benefits. This is why we are seeing more and more announcements of mobile operators collaborating (Read here), or even forming Joint Ventures (Read here and here). The intention with all these initiatives are good and (if successful) will benefit all.

The intention of this is good, but if these organisations cannot truly cooperate, nothing will be produced and all the good intentions will go up in smoke. The investment would have been in vain. What I find intriguing is if it will be possible for companies that are used to compete (and do this with intensity) can actually cooperate. Many of the structures, culture and values of mobile operators are based on out-performing the competition. Will it be possible to suppress these impulses and to act swiftly on collaborating? I don't think so.

Furthermore, history has shown that progress in mobile banking has never been achieved through collaboration and cooperation, but rather through fierce competition. The successes achieved in the Philippines, Kenya, Pakistan and other countries can all be attributed to competition, whereas initiatives like Simpay (based on cooperation) delayed the deployment of mobile payments in Europe with years. Why don't we learn from history?

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