Instant Recharge: The New Kid on the Block

Something interesting is happening in Nigeria but it’s so subtle you may not even notice it. Ma’am, I tore up the recharge voucher!
Ok, if your bank doesn’t allow you to buy airtime instantly from your phone maybe time you got another bank. Nope, seriously, I’m not doing a Diamond Bank skit.
I just finished reading “The best interface is no interface” and the first stuff that came to my mind was, we just did this s**t in Lagos! You can now top-up your phone instantly without scratching a single card.
A quick backgrounder. Some years ago, CBN got tired of banks just looking only for rich dudes and newly minted yahoo boys and so took them on a Cashless drive. Some bits worked and some failed. Mobile money was one of the failed bits. Damn, people just don’t like mobile money wallets. I didn’t like them either. They were islands, expensive to operate and just generally annoying. Meanwhile at the end of the experiments where bankers set fires to a lot of money, out of the ashes rose USSD codes.
Not knowing what to do with the damn thing, banks started slapping in some bits of code that allows you to buy airtime when you dialed say * 123 * amount #. It simply works! GTBank was the first to start, then Fidelity, then Zenith and before you could say Jack Robinson, other banks fell in. Today Wema, First Bank and Sterling have joined the fray and before mid-year, without divulging confidential information, more than 10 banks will launch the service. I can predict that come January 1 next year, the only banks that won’t be offering this service would be headquartered in Sambisa forest.
There are implications though and as usual it would be a double edge sword depending on which side of the damn sword you are on.
Let’s talk about the positives.
Customers would have an amazing time buying airtime. If you’ve experienced this service you ain’t gonna touch a recharge card again. Neither would you login to your miserable Internet banking again.
Banks, I just love bankers! They now earn new revenue stream of between 4% to 6% depending on how they bargain with providers. Trust me, there would be bloodbath next year when contracts are renewed.
New services would ride on this. One day someone would figure out transferring funds instantly can also work on USSD. Same as cashless ATM withdrawal. Customer service may even evolve on it: you may be able to update your address, phone, email, etc. without visiting your bank.
Finally, even if we roasted our Mobile Money ideas, our simple but elegant USSD has worked. Let someone clap for CBN!
But the bad is scarier!
Recharge sellers are facing extinction. Everyone has phones and almost everyone has accounts. Once the banks have corralled their customers into this scheme, there goes the gravy train. Oops, obliteration isn’t awaiting only the recharge sellers but also the super dealers. Damn, I feel sorry for the lot.
Card networks (I didn’t mention names!) will feel the pinch. You want to know why? Because they make money off transactions but once banks figure out how to do same stuff over USSD without involving the card networks, say goodbye to money baby! After all, 95% of all transactions in Nigeria are local. In fact I feel the number is sexed up, it may be closer to 99% but then who cares?
NCC and CBN may bring further regulations into this. Regulations help and hurt at same time. Depends on where you find yourself, just like that damned swinging sword up some paragraphs above. At least I know of one standing regulation that says Banks cannot sell recharge directly and must go through a provider. Should that change, then…complete the sentence.
The market today is dominated by two major players but I won’t mention names because I have friends there. If NCC tweaks the regulations both face the risk of disappearing as the telcos will simply talk to the banks and cut vending companies off at the knees. I’m sure the telcos are already noticing things.
In all, there are more gainers (customers and banks; about 30M of them lot) than losers (recharge sellers, super dealers, card networks, vending providers) so let the game starts. I’m up for innovation, I’m up for liberation and I’m up for a good sleep after a long travel.
See what a boring flight can make you type out. Pathetic.

Apple Watch is Evolution in Real Time

Could this be the beginning of the end or end of the beginning?
I’m not trying to sound dystopian but an evolution may start where normal watches would join dinosaurs in the archeological dig.
Ok, what happened?
Apple launched a $10,000 smart watch. You heard me right, 100 Benjamins for a digital watch! Not even Seiko ever dreamed of that.
It’s official, Apple got into the wearable fray and everyone sat up. While we thought that the likes of Samsung, LG, Motorola and Pebble are in for a genocide, the actual victims may be far away in cozy Switzerland, oblivious of the catastrophe heading their way; faster and deadlier than a Tsunami.
The market for expensive watches has been around for centuries and it’s every man’s dream to own something he could pass on to the next generation. Till date, their prices have been largely unaffected by the global economy yoyo. The brands are classy and exclusive. The wearers, especially the nouveau riche, are obnoxious and want everyone to notice them.
Money is good.
Why do we even buy these expensive time machines? So that all those tiny chewing gum chicks can know we have arrived? Or maybe get some respect from the old cougars? It is mostly the pass to the rarefied world of the upper class.
Here comes Apple the electronic bully. With a $10K watch, the average dude that has part of his brains in his nether regions may use that as a cheaper alternative. While there are markets for very expensive watches most watchmakers are usually sustained by the cheaper, more affordable models. Take that away, and Rolex executives could find themselves mopping floors of Geneva’s local malls.
Maybe I’m just beefing. Maybe not. But I can’t help feeling schadenfreude.

MTN Nigeria made $2,6B Profit in 2014 – Beat that!

MTN Group just released their 2014 results. For once I sincerely believe I’m sure I’m in the wrong business. First thing on Monday, I’m taking a flight to Abuja to get my own telecoms license. You think I’m wrong? How can those numbers be wrong?
Ok, time to face realities.
MTN Nigeria had a bumper time last year. Forget about the pessimistic outlook splashed out on the annual report. Making $2.6B profit in a year na beanz? I tried to calculate that in Naira but my calculator displayed this result “Are you on cheap weed?” If I got that from Mallams, I would have to bring along, or say, freight along N590,534,092,350. How many alabaru can carry that?
Don’t even start me up on all the things you could do with that amount of money. But let’s try some:
I could send SMS to all Nigerians, the whole 170M of us, 868 times. What would I even say to them? At 160 characters per SMS, I could send them a short book. Nigerian’s don’t read so by the time I’m done, I would be the biggest spammer in the world.
I could be magnanimous and get all Nigerians, still the whole 170M of us, 57 loaves of bread each. The bakers would be happy. But after the second loaf, everyone won’t be having that much fun.
Or maybe I could just buy phones? I could get 3,192,076 lucky guys iPhone 6. But trust me, we may get more! With that many number of phones, Jumia would be stupid not to cut a deal.
Or get them cars? I could add 109,358 Hyundai ix35 to Lagos traffic and just make everyone’s life more miserable. Or I could be nicer and simply get 15,540 Merc S500 to clog just Banana Island alone.
Let me do something more constructive though, let’s get everyone a home. Going by the going rate of new homes in my estate, I could buy terrace duplexes for 13, 122 families. With that many homes, we may simply start a new town. Yellow Town? It may be a cute name but a nightmare for interior decorators if we had to paint houses that color.
The traffic on Lekki Road is now so terrible so I’m actually more inclined to use the money for an alternative route from VI to God knows where. I would enjoy the sparring that Julius Berger, Hitech and PW Nigeria would have in my office but trust me, I won’t get less than 200KM of 10 lane NaijaBahn between Ahmadu Bello Way and beyond Epe. I could get to the office in 15 minutes. Wait, with that type of money, do I ever need to work again? I may just charter a Falcon 2000 and fly for 23 years non-stop.
Most people think that the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge had a lot of “pork” but let’s imagine that’s the real price, I may simply build 20 of such bridges. Ha ha ha, the folks in Ikoyi with their upturned noses would have to contend with Obalende and Ikate area boys who will then have more bridges to cross than ever.
We may really build 10 fourth mainland bridges and just move on.
You know the sad reality, we lose twice more than that every years to oil thieves. Today, bunkerers steal at least 400,000 barrels of oil today. Say they sell them at $30 per barrel, that’s some $4.3B going to someone in Nigeria today and not a simple SMS, bread, phones, cars, roads, bridges, for his community. Some people will simply roast in the toastier parts of hell!

4K TV – The New Gimmick in Town

I have tripped over more 4K TV cables in the last few weeks than all the bus drivers bashing cars in Lagos.
Suddenly 4K became the rave. You wonder what 4K is? 4K is to HDTV as HDTV is to SDTV. If you don’t know SDTV, you may want to read here. 4K is sometimes called UHD by purists. But purists be damned!
4K allows incredible fidelity of visual content. You only need to see any of those monsters on display and you are hooked forever. The biggest challenge is content though. Without a native 4K content, there is nothing glorious and orgasmic to see.
So there lies my problem – what are the 4K TVs doing in Nigeria? There are no 4K discs to watch and the internet is too poor to stream 4K content from the internet.
I guess maybe LG and Samsung are playing on guys’ greed or maybe lack of awareness. As far as I’m concerned, this is just an expensive gimmickry.