Instant Recharge Tracker

Only an idiot would trust a banker. Rumor has it that while the cockroach would be the last to exist after Armageddon, the bankers would be the second to the last.

The smell of easy money, when the economy is tight and Naira is testing out a new parachute, is hard to resist. I’m not a prophet but I predicted this some months ago that by year end, only a few banks won’t offer xyzAmount# service.
Instant airtime recharge is the new kid on the block for banks and it’s simply amazing for the average Joe on the street. If your nail is cropped short like mine or bedeviled with fungi like my cousin’s, then not having to scratch a recharge card anymore is a dream come through.

So, with mobile money short codes deployed to more salubrious usage, I can at least give a rundown of what the money men are up to.

Access Bank*901*Amount#Clickatell
CitibankCorporate customers. No interest, I guess 
Diamond BankProbably in the works 
Fidelity Bank*770*Amount#InterSwitch
First Bank of Nigeria*894*Amount#InterSwitch
First City Monument Bank*389*214*1*Amount# (Seriously?) 
FSDH Merchant BankProbably not interested 
Guaranty Trust Bank*773*Amount#Clickatell
Heritage Bank*322*030*Amount#InterSwitch
Keystone Bank*322*082*Amount#InterSwitch
Rand Merchant BankMerchant bank – probably no interest 
Skye Bank  
Stanbic IBTC Bank*909*Amount#Clickatell
Standard Chartered BankEhm.. 
Sterling Bank *822*Amount# Clickatell
Union BankDefinitely something cooking 
United Bank for AfricaDefinitely something cooking 
Unity Bank *322*215*Amount# InterSwitch
Wema Bank*322*035*Amount#InterSwitch
Zenith Bank*966*Amount#Cyberspace

Rumor has it that the money is good, and I know at least 2 banks doing over N500M a month. In fact, one of them has strolled beyond N1B in airtime sales a month. Typical margin is a neighborhood of 5%+/-.

Feedback has been positive but the major sand in the Garri of this has been network performance – customer getting debited but airtime doing what Buhari is doing with ministerial nominations. MTN, being the largest telco, probably didn’t see this coming and so every time their service has a problem, which is like every minute, something goes wrong and customers reach for their machetes. Another annoying fact is you need to have a minimum of N12 to be able to do airtime on MTN although some banks are offsetting that money for customers.

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.