Thursday, March 15, 2012

Merchants and Agents - not the same at all

The industry of emerging markets are built on the back-bone of traders. It is the informal markets that distribute most goods and create most jobs. Anybody that have traveled in Africa, would be able to vouch for massive markets of informal traders selling everything conceivable. The nature of the commerce happening in emerging markets are also almost always based on cash transactions.

With the growth of mobile money initiatives throughout Africa, some of these traders have been signed up to perform a critical role; to provide cash-in and cash-out services to wallet holders. These traders are referred to as Agents in the new digital money world. They have to be formally registered, trained and must use a mobile phone to perform this function. It is also a requirement that they should have a certain level of literacy as they frequently have to keep book of transactions for audit purposes. Most of the schema's require these Agents to make a "substantial" pre-payment as a kind of float in order to manage cash flow risks.

With the growth of mobile money solutions in emerging markets, some traders are starting to accept electronic payments (in stead of cash). The incident of this is still very small and informal. It is likely that this practice will grow and will also become more formalised. Traders accepting mobile money (digital) payments can be classified as merchants (in a similar way as for Card Association merchants). It is pretty clear that these two roles (merchants and agents) are very different, and while they may be performed by the same trader in some instances, should be dealt with in totally different ways.

1 comment:

Victor Asemota said...

I wrote a very long post about the role of the merchant here:

http://asemota.posterous.com/the-merchant-as-change-agentand-no-i-dont-mea

I think even though agents and merchants in MM parlance are treated differently, merchants are the best "change agents" in the fight against cash