Before mobile money can reach its long-awaited crescendo, everyone in the symphony has to be playing from the same sheet of music.
So says Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, referring to the lack of coordination among the many players involved in complex mobile money ecosystems. Citi is one of those players: last month, the world's largest financial services company launched a partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development to accelerate the adoption of mobile money in a handful of developing countries across the globe.
In Sunday's Wall Street Journal, Citi's strategic advisor, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, calls on CIOs to play the role of symphony conductor. With broad business and technology skills, he says, they have "a critical role to play" in this digital technology revolution. He spells out the reasons the for-profit sector should get involved:
This is a huge deal. Several billion people will become part of the world’s economy through their mobile devices. Companies, from the largest to the smallest, will want them as customers.
As Wladawsky-Berger notes, while "mobile money ecosystems are being launched around the world at a rapid pace, only a few have reached critical mass." For companies that haven't been paying attention to this digital money revolution, centered not in the West but in some of the world's poorest countries, the article is a well-timed wake-up call. Right now, a few mobile network operators, credit card companies and banks monopolize mobile transfers. But with the adoption of any new highly sought-after technology, competition is about to take hold. Companies that don't partner with other players in the ecosystem lose a critical edge and the opportunity to help shape mobile money's direction.
Mobile money is a game-changing endeavor with the potential to improve lives, create jobs, spawn new enterprises, and expand financial inclusion, particularly in the emerging markets that are critical to the growth of the global economy.
Wladawsky-Berger doesn't call on CIOs to lead the transition without a prescription. A joint report (PDF) between Citi and USAID offers 10 specific suggestions, which it "calls accelerators," to help coordinate the activities of all the various actors involved in transitioning payment streams from cash to mobile money:
10 Ways to Accelerate Mobile Money
1. Ensure mobile money transfers are safe and transparent.
2. Establish an inter-agency government process to coordinate mobile money decisions.
3. Leverage mobile money for government and donor payments and collections.
4. Get food and household product retailers to accept mobile money.
5. Promote open-architecture policies and interoperability within and across ecosystems.
6. Allow mobile money transfers to move seamlessly across borders and mobile networks.
7. Pilot programs to test innovative approaches, create impact analysis, and develop replicable opportunities for scale.
8. Protect people through client education and consumer protection measures.
9. Facilitate the ability of people to put cash in and take cash out of their mobile wallets.
10. Tackle the identity issue for the unbanked.
There's money to be made, no question. Transparent partnerships between huge global conglomerates and aid organizations--even those led by government--seem to promise some of that new wealth will flow to the world's poor. That's music to our ears.