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Africa's operators lean towards regional interoperability

Africa's operators lean towards regional interoperability

African telecom companies offering mobile money services are more inclined to regional interoperability than national cross network money transfers and other transactions as they continue to seek a share of the regional remittance market dominated by banks and money transfer agencies.

Although mobile money interoperability inside most African markets is staggered, mobile money platforms in East, West and Central Africa have opened up cross border mobile money transfers.

Zimbabwe's EcoCash allows for remittances from South Africa, although the government is advocating mobile money interoperability and has given operators until 1 April 1 to fix this or risk government intervention.

According to a report by Mondato, International Remittance Hubs: Interoperability Evolving, mobile money operators in the region still view interoperability as a competitive advantage inside their home markets.

Only Tanzania has opened up its mobile money industry to interoperability, while Kenya and Ghana are also expected to open up cross network transfers in the next few weeks.

"Nonetheless, of the 60 plus countries that boast more than one mobile money service provider, 45 of them are defined by a closed loop ecosystem. And yet, some providers, while still shackled to domestic silos, have pursued bilateral or multilateral agreements that open up corridors to international interoperability," reads an excerpt from the report.

The most notable mobile money interoperability corridors are prevalent in East and Central Africa as well as between Zimbabwe and South Africa. West Africa also has a vibrant footprint of mobile money cross border interoperability.

"As far as trade finance goes, international mobile money interoperability is equipping small entrepreneurs with tools never before at their disposal.

"East Africa is case in point. Of the 29 cross-border remittance initiatives live in 2015, a third were localised to this region, a by-product of Vodafone and MTN's deal to empower M-Pesa customers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania to shuffle money to and from MTN Mobile Money customers in Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia," adds the study.

Mondato adds that Ghana has been "delayed by a complication where mobile network operators' were unable to plug-in to the interoperable platform" but it now intends to kick-start a "more polished Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement Systems (GhIPSS)" by the end of this month.

In Tanzania, national mobile money interoperability appears to be paying off. The arrangement being pursued in the country mandates that operators share revenue and figures circulated show that Airtel, Tigo, Vodacom and Zantel have seen "tremendous growth in interoperable peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers.

"From 2014 to 2016, Tigo Tanzania witnessed a 17 percent hike, by value, of external in-bound or internal out-bound money movements. Airtel, similarly, averaged a monthly growth rate of 10 percent in its interoperable P2P product segment since the platform's inauguration," says the study.

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