Unpacking the booms and dooms of mobile money services


At the mention of mobile money services, Samuel Manda will surely have no kind words for the product. Every time he is made conscious of the subject, Manda recalls back in 2016 when he cursed the day the services were introduced, after being duped by a con artist through a fake job offer.

Manda, who hails from Bondo village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kafuzira’s area in Nkhotakota, recalls the day he received a message from the T/A, informing him that the chief had received a phone call from Capital Hill to look for 95 youths to undergo military training. Manda was considered for the ‘opportunity’ and was given a phone number for the ‘contact’ to discuss the modalities.

Tired with pains of village life, Manda did not hesitate to link with the ‘contact’ who demanded K50,000 for accommodation, processing and to palm-oil ‘top bosses’ at Capital Hill for consideration. Manda had to move up and down, knocking on every available door looking for the money and managed to get K40,000 which he sent via Airtel Money. After the money was sent, the ‘contact’ started playing hide and seek until his number could not be reached.


“These mobile money services will leave us poorer than before. Look, these crooks from town are taking advantage of the system to dupe us from the village,” says Manda, while searching for other bad adjectives to describe the experience,

On the other hand, Crownwell Kaonga, a TNM Mpamba agent at Dwangwa Trading Centre, is a contented man as the mobile money business has transformed his life.

“I started this business two years ago after quitting a clerical job. Many people blamed me when I took this risk but I no longer regret. Through this business I have bought five hectares of land on which I have cultivated groundnuts and soya beans,” said Kaonga.


Through commissions he gets from cash-ins and cash-outs for clients, Kaonga is assured of pocketing something at the end of each day. On average, Kaonga says he serves not less than 20 customers in a day. He gets a one percent commission for any cash out transaction and 1.5 percent for cash in.

“It depends on how big the transactions are but the good thing is that I manage to maintain my capital and I only use commissions to feed my family and do other personal developments,” says Kawonga.

Introduced in 2012, mobile money services are provided by Airtel Malawi and TNM through Airtel Money and TNM Mpamba respectively. An assessment of the services tells two different stories.

Lessening the burden

Situated on the coast of Lake Malawi in Nkhotakota North East, life at Chauma fishing area is just unbearable. Being a hard-to-reach place, the place is isolated, making provision of social amenities difficult. The whole village relies on one grocery shop owned by Village Headman Kayola, who supplies the community with almost everything. To bring more relevance to his business, Kayola added Airtel money and TNM Mpamba services.

“His presence here is a blessing to us all. We could have been travelling long distances to access mobile money services,” says Violet Onayika, a native of Chauma fishing area.

On his part, Kayola asserts that mobile money services are not only lessening the islanders’ burden of travelling to the mainland to get mobile money services, but have also boosted capital for his grocery shop.

“I sell airtime through Airtel money and TNM Mpamba. Unlike in the past when I was selling through scratch cards, nowadays I just load in money which I sell my customers through top up services,” he explains.

Apart from that, Kayola no longer carries huge sums of money when going to buy goods for his grocery shop as most of his money is kept in his mobile money account.

The two initiatives provide both the common person and the elite, services such as airtime top-up, payment of salary, utility bills and most importantly, sending and receiving money. Unlike in the past when one needed a bank or post office to send money, nowadays it takes just a matter of seconds before sending money to almost everywhere and anytime, with no paperwork.

According to Airtel Malawi spokesperson, Norah Chavula, currently there are over 2 million registered customers on Airtel Money and of these more than 600,000 are using the service regularly.

“We have also embarked on an exercise to increase the number of merchant outlets where customers can pay for items such as groceries and other miscellaneous items using mobile money. Currently, we have over 5,000 merchant outlets that enable customers to not only pay for utilities but also buy goods and services,” Chavula says.

Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) spokesperson, Mbane Ngwira, says there are about 30,000 registered agents across the country. Airtel Money and TNM Mpamba agents are becoming a common sight in the localities as they continue saving lives through their convenience and reliability.

The ugly side

An assessment of the services also shows that all is not rosy as the technology has had its negative implications too. Many unsuspecting Malawians continue losing millions of Kwacha through mobile cash transfer-related fraud and theft. Customers, for example, have been defrauded of a lot of money by people who call to inform them that they are ‘winners’ of an ongoing promotion.

It is apparent that the introduction of mobile money services has assisted the fraudsters to easily trick Malawians as money can be sent and received in the blink of an eye.

With 85 percent of the country’s population based in rural areas, the tricksters might have just found a lucrative business. A Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) press statement issued in October this year warned the public against the tricksters.

“The Authority therefore wishes to appeal to the public at large to be vigilant so that they do not fall into the trap of promotions and competitions that do not exist,” the statement read in part.

Nevertheless, overall, according to Ngwira, mobile money services have been a success story in the country.

“The product has been a success as evidenced by the growth in subscriber base, agent network and also the volume and value of transactions. For instance, the number of mobile money subscribers has grown from 185,758 in December 2012 to 4,518,196 in October 2017,” he said.

Ngwira adds that the number of registered agents, through which the services are delivered, has grown significantly from 3,847 in December 2012 to 29,929 in October 2017, although he notes that there is relatively high level of inactivity with the agents.

However, Ngwira pointed out challenges such as lack of quality network and people’s awareness of mobile services, and low income and literacy levels as affecting quality delivery of the services.

By the end of the day, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks but still the service providers need to address the challenges so that the likes of Samuel Manda can once again have confidence in mobile money.

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