Central Bank
Central Bank of
Communications Authority
Ministry of ICT.

LETTERS: Step up users’ awareness on interoperability

Interoperability will encourage innovation and growth in the industry, while attracting investment.

Mobile money systems in Kenya are now interoperable. That it is now possible to send and receive money across networks – and according to communication in the daily newspapers and other platforms, this service is first being offered between Safaricom and Airtel, with Telkom expected to join soon. In addition to this, charges for such cross-network transactions are coming down. Unlike the previous scenario, customers need to be informed that with interoperability they will not be charged a penny more for using the service, than what they are being charged by their current operator of choice. The seamless cross-network transfer of mobile money transfer is a laudable initiative. It is being spearheaded by the Central Bank of Kenya with the support of other stakeholders such as the Ministry of ICT, following a successful pilot. This could be the first step in our long journey towards becoming a truly cashless economy. The mobile money ecosystem keeps growing – the Communications Authority estimates that between October and December last year, mobile money transfer transactions valued at Sh1.763 trillion and mobile commerce transactions valued at Sh1.1 trillion were conducted.

Pundits say that an interoperable ecosystem will accelerate further growth, particularly in the mobile transfer space. The only drawback to the on-going interoperability initiative, and which may just turn out to be its Achilles’ heel, is the half-hearted consumer awareness efforts accompanying it. When interoperability went live, there were a few notices in the papers announcing the new development and its benefits. Obviously, this was not how the regulator, in this case the Central Bank of Kenya, had intended it to be. It is quite disheartening to note that even basic and more targeted consumer awareness via a platform as simple yet effective as the SMS was not employed to create further awareness of this service, by the two operators that have begun offering the interoperable solution. Why don’t the operators inform customers of such pertinent information with as much zeal as they do with their own product, solution and consumer campaigns?Communicating the new development is key if subscribers are to take full advantage of it. As it is, the concept of interoperability is alien to many of the subscribers, and it is crucial that it is communicated over and over to generate the necessary awareness across the country. Communication theorists argue that it takes time in hammering a message to get it to sink.Besides, it is emerging that the customer journey for cross-network mobile money transactions is different from those conducted within the network. How would the subscribers know if this is not communicated to them?Interoperability is so big a cause to be let to fail. The now infamous study on the state of competition in the telco industry identified it as one of the ways of facilitating effective competition. Competition is in the best of public interest.It is good for the consumer ultimately, since in a network neutral environment, operators will have no choice but to bring on their best game, which will translate into better experiences. Ultimately, it will encourage innovation and growth in the industry, while attracting investment. Investors are attracted to vibrant and competitive industries, where the ground is fair to all. The more reason we have to make interoperability work.The onus now is on the regulator to step in and ask that the work to enhance consumers’ awareness on interoperability is dialled up. This may be an industry-led initiative but its implementation now calls for regulator support as well. It should not be left to the operators to decide – be prescriptive if that is what it will take to deliver on the objectives. Remember, the road to hell, as it is often said, is paved with good intentions. Intentions, on their own, do not count. It is time to act on them.

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