Orange Senegal to launch mobile money service

Laurent Kiba heads up the Orange Senegal business unit in charge of Orange Money, which will be commercially launched on May 3rd.

Laurent Kiba heads up the Orange Senegal business unit in charge of Orange Money, which will be commercially launched on May 3rd. In this exclusive interview, he tells us about the challenges and strategic implications of mobile money for Orange in Africa.

So how did this all start?

Like in many African markets, launching mobile money in Senegal came as a natural evolution of our role as the leading operator. Senegal is Orange Money’s second market, after Cote d’Ivoire, which was launched in December 2008.
BNP Paribas is our banking partner. Their agreement with Orange Group was then carried over locally here in Senegal by a partnership between BICIS and Orange Senegal.

Our platform provider is Comviva, who we’ve been working with for several years, as they are also our platform provider for airtime purchase and transfer.

We created a dedicated business unit to pilot the Orange Money project in Senegal. We then went onto recruiting and training over 1 000 retail agents.

Can you tell us a bit about the product itself?

There are various services under the Orange Money umbrella: money transfer, of course, but also bill payment (such as water and electricity), cash in/cash out, and even online payment via partner sites, starting with, Senegal’s premier online retail store.

One of the innovations we offer is the ability to transfer money to a user who has not yet signed up for the service, which they can do after the transfer has been made by the sender.

What are your rates?
Signup is free, and so are money deposits. Mobile to mobile transfers have a transaction fee of 3%, withdrawals are charged 4%, and bill payments are charged a flat fee of 500 XOF. Single deposits can be made starting at 500 XOF, with a daily maximum initially set at 100 000, for a total of 300 000 XOF per week. Full details are available on our website.

How is the project different from Orange Money Cote d’Ivoire?

Well, essentially, it is the same, given that it is a Group project. Orange Money has been rather successful in Cote d’Ivoire so far, where it is the leading mobile money solution, with 200 000 users. We are really expecting it to kick off this year.

However, we did try and learn from our first experience to make some tweaks. For instance, rather than being managed as a horizontal project like in Cote d’Ivoire, we created a separate, fully-dedicated, Orange Money business unit for Senegal. We also changed our communications strategy by insisting more on the pedagogical aspect.

How is the project different from your strategic competitors’ in Africa: Zap, MTN Mobile Money and of course M-Pesa?

I have great respect for those 3 services. All I can say is that Orange really focused on making sure the final product is top quality. This took a lot of time, and a lot of testing. We also made a real effort to offer a wide-range of financial services upon launch, rather than gradually adding them on with time.
That being said, we will be adding a lot of new features soon, including a partnership with a major global money transfer provider.
Senegal must be a relatively easy market for you, given that neither one of your two competitors (Tigo/Millicom and Expresso/Sudatel) have a mobile money solution at group level….

Competition is usually the best path to excellence, but mobile money is a bit different given that there is no “interconnectivity” so to speak. For instance, M-Pesa’s success in Kenya is largely due to its circa 80% market share. In Senegal, beyond the absence of mobile money offer from our competitors, our biggest strength is our leadership on the market: about 70% of mobile subscriptions in Senegal are on Orange.

Our real competitors at this stage are money transfer organizations, and to a certain extent other players who can launch their own mobile money services: banks, micro-finance institutions. For instance, in some markets, such as the Philippines, the project leader is not the telco, but the bank.
One of the big questions around mobile money is effective profitability for operators…

For us, mobile money is a profitable service. However, the first two years are expensive: service launch, customer base development, pedagogical deployment… It’s all about investing and building at this stage.
Beyond that, there are other strategic benefits derived from mobile money. For instance, with Africa’s multi-SIM culture, churn rates are very high. If you have multiple SIMs, but one of them is also your bank account, it stands out. As the first mover, we are expecting to create churn from our competitors towards Orange.

Another key strategic issue is corporate social responsibility. Sonatel is the incumbent, and probably the preferred household brand in Senegal. We therefore take our social role very seriously. With Orange Money, not only are we creating an economy around the service, but the service itself, by making virtual transactions available to everyone, will boost the economy as a whole.

What is the roadmap for mobile money deployment across the rest of Orange’s Africa footprint?
The next two steps are Mali and Niger. Mali should be launched before the end of the year.

Is the Senegal team involved in the process?
We try and bring our experience to the project. Beyond that, certain aspects were managed centrally for all markets, in order to reduce costs. For instance, we will be running in Niger and Mali the same pedagogical communications campaign as in Senegal.

What was, in retrospect, the most challenging part of launching Orange Money in Senegal?

I think the hardest was setting up the retail network, which is probably the most important success factor. We had to blend retailers who were already experienced with financial products with others to whom it was a total novelty. A true melting pot.

More generally, it wasn’t easy setting everything up from scratch: reporting systems, banking agreements, regulatory authorizations, etc. That being said, we’re very happy with the result, and I can’t wait for things to get kicking.

Abby Wakama