Regulation emerged as a key underlying issue to tackle in any deployment of a mobile money service during a panel session this morning from global operators.

High-profile representatives from Bangladesh operator Robi, Digicel Haiti, India’s largest player Bharti Airtel, South Africa’s Vodacom and MTN Ghana re-enacted the development of a mobile money service as part of a ‘MNO Board Meeting.’

“Regulators need to be comfortable,” said Koji Ono, chief strategy officer at Robi. “It begins with looking at your relationship with regulators.” Sriraman Jagannathan, mCommerce CEO, Bharti Airtel, concurred: “Regulations in prospective markets govern what we can do. We need to work with them to understand what can be done.”

Jagannathan added that understanding the needs of customers is essential, in order that customer demand can be served. “Another important component is building the ecosystem of the partnerships; this service needs to be built for scale. For this to happen lots of people have to come together. Getting the support of internal stakeholders within the operator is also important; interaction with the operator steering group and getting them passionate is critical.”

MTN Ghana’s general manager of mobile money, Bruno Akpaka, expanded on this point. “For an MNO the first thing to do is to sell it internally. You must get buy in from internal stakeholders. From our experience in Ghana, we had to get the partner banks to buy in. We had to explain to them why they should share the fruit.”

Vodacom’s Sasha Natasha Monyamane, group executive; AML, Ethics and Compliance, touched on the often thorny subject of the operator/bank relationship and how this impacts interaction with regulators. “Before anything else goes ahead we have to think about whether the central bank will give us permission to launch a product of this nature; will we get a banking license? Will we partner with the bank as a joint venture? Do we want to partner with the bank, and will our relationship with the regulator be via the bank or direct? Essentially, we don’t want to be a bank; we want to be a telco.”

Digicel Haiti’s head of products, David Sharpe, talked up the need for an early market study that will determine consumer demand, the competitive environment, potential platform strategies, tariffs for consumers, commission structure for agents, service funding, and general branding and marketing of the service. “Have an RFP to find a technology partner and not just a vendor,” advised Sharpe. “Discover how that partner will help grow your network. The technology is just a small piece.  Lastly, understand all the phases of the deployment plan and when deployment will begin.”

Robi’s Ono urged operators to invest in the mobile payment platform to better understand consumers, whilst Vodacom’s Monyamane stressed the need to determine exactly what kind of product the service is, what distribution channels are to be used and who the target market is. “We don’t want this product to be risky in terms of perception; we want it to be reliable and safe.”

On the subject of which end user market to target, debate focused on both the B2B and consumer markets. “We can’t go far wrong in launching P2P services; they are most popular,” said Bharti’s Jagannathan. “In the B2B area the SME sector promises a sweet spot, whilst in the consumer market it is P2P and bill payments that will be most popular.” 

Digicel’s Sharpe cautioned: “The B2B market takes a lot of work. There are some synergies to be gained from working with B2B but you are talking about working with app developers and businesses in order to cater to what they need, and that will take a lot more time than P2P.”