Mobile Money for the Masses

This week, TechCrunch published a powerful article exposing the stark contrast behind the large-scale buzz surrounding mobile money, and the small-scale audience that it has actually reached. The article gets straight to the point in its title: “Mobile Payments: A Trillion Dollar Industry…Once Everyone Can Actually Make A Payment.” It then goes on to suggest that mobile money has yet to expand beyond a niche, elitist customer base, and that the technology hasn’t even scratched the surface of reaching its true potential:

“Ironically, many companies innovating on mobile payments today are focusing their attention on a new kind of proprietary “payment mechanism” in the form of isolated apps, NFC required devices and other exclusive components of a mobile device.  Peering outside the pin-needle sized, early-adopting Silicon Valley elite, you will discover roughly 6 billion mobile subscribers worldwide – an astonishing 85 percent of the world population.  Also important to note, 95% of these individuals don’t carry an Apple device. And moreover, 75% of the world is still not using a device generally regarded as a smartphone.

Let me state that another way:  There are 4.5 billion people in this world holding a phone, just NOT holding a smartphone.

So why is there so much focus on a mobile payment experience in which only 5% – or at max 25% – of the world can actually participate?  Shouldn’t we look at what all these devices have in common when we are designing an experience as universal as payment?  I fear we are leaving too many people out of the game and too much money on the table.”

After exposing this dilemma, the article explores what it will take to truly turn mobile payments into a trillion dollar industry. The key, argues author Nick Hughes, is dissolving the exclusive fragmentation that currently exists in mobile money applications.

At Uniphore, we find ourselves making this same argument almost every day. Whether we are talking to banks, governments, or merchants, our pitch is the same: India has 900 million mobile connections reaching across the sociogeographic pyramid, and less than 15% of these are smartphones. Also, about 40% of India’s population is illiterate, and only about 4% are English literate – so they can’t interact with any form of text-based application at all.

Given these conditions, and our experience with a wide breadth of mobile money players, we’ve concluded that mobile money for the masses will only come about when the payment application meets the following five criteria:   

  1. Agnostic: Mobile payments should be open to all, not just to owners of smartphones. We must overcome device and platform barriers by creating applications that can work on any basic feature phone.
  2. Intuitive: Human behavior dictates that we do what we know, and 99% of the time, we make choices within our comfort zone. So a mobile payment application that involves a brand new interface with a huge learning curve will never be swiftly adopted. We must study how people are most comfortable interacting with their mobile phones currently, and provide them with the same structure for doing payments.
  3. Personal: These days, customers expect businesses to know them well. The more targeted an application is to the particular traits and preferences of an individual, the more likely they are to use it. This means that a mobile payment platform must be available in the native language of each customer, and that they can use the application to transact in the way they want and in amounts that they are comfortable with.
  4. Secure: Customers need to know that their money is safe. Mobile devices can be lost or stolen, and PINs are often forgotten or compromised. A mobile payment platform must implement a more reliable security technology so people feel confident enough to use it.
  5. Convenient: People should be able to use their mobile phones to pay for goods and services anywhere and anytime. Anything that requires physical presence in a retail store for payment ignores the infrastructure barriers of India, and the growing desire for self-service everything.

Reviewing this checklist inevitably leads us to conclude that a voice-based mobile money platform is the optimal payment solution for Indian demographics. In such applications, customers simply call the application, authenticate their identity through Voice Biometrics, then engage with a Speech Recognition platform to request and complete their transaction. Voice applications can run on any basic feature phone, and they can be accessed in any and all Indian languages, simultaneously meeting the agnostic and personal criteria from above. Furthermore, the natural language processing of these applications creates intelligent conversations for callers, which is intuitive because its similar to any other voice call that the customer would traditionally make.

Voice-based mobile payment applications use Voice Biometrics – a combination of a user’s dialect, speaking style, pitch, spectral magnitudes, and format frequencies – to authenticate the identity of the customer. This unique combination renders it impossible to impersonate a voice or gain fraudulent authentication – thus guaranteeing security on the application. Furthermore, Voice Biometrics is the only biometric that enables users to authenticate remotely – avoiding a trip to the store or bank – and enabling the customer to make their payments on their schedule, in a way that is convenient to them.

At the end of his article, author Nick Hughes remarks that the mobile payments “wave will crest once the majority of people have an opportunity to participate.” Well, paddlers beware, voice-based mobile banking is a universally applicable platform, about to cause a storm.

About Uniphore: Uniphore Software Systems is the leader in Multi lingual speech-based software solutions. Uniphore’s solutions allow any machine to understand and respond to natural human speech, thus enabling humans to use the most natural of communication modes, speech, to engage and instruct machines. Uniphore operates from its corporate headquarters at IIT Madras Research Park, Chennai, India and has sales offices in Middle East (Dubai, UAE) as well as in Manila, Philippines.

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