METFONE’S decision to become the latest mobile operator to sign up to ANZ’s WING money transfer system this week means market leader Mobitel is under even greater pressure to sort out the fiasco surrounding its own mobile-payment system.
The rewards for quick, fully-authorised market entry are obvious. Around 95 percent of Cambodians still do not have a bank account, and the mobile-money model has already proved a lucrative hit in countries all over the developing world, particularly in Africa and Asia.
In a market considered to offer huge potential – WING has gained 150,000 users in a little over 18 months of operations in Cambodia – Mobitel’s strategy in this market appears unfathomable.
Why has the country’s biggest mobile phone company not sought accreditation?
Why has the country’s biggest mobile-phone company not sought central bank accreditation for mobile money transfer, which is clearly a banking service, despite claims to the contrary by the firm’s executives?
Perhaps even more puzzling is why has Mobitel not teamed up with WING, given that the Royal Group is in partnership with WING-operator ANZ at ANZ Royal Bank?
Mobitel’s stalled entry appears strange given that now two-thirds of the highly competitive mobile-phone sector has already teamed up with WING to offer mobile banking.
That includes its main rival Metfone, as well as Mfone and Hello the next two largest firms in the domestic industry.
Clearly the National Bank of Cambodia does not agree that Mobitel can operate without a mobile-banking licence for its service, which as a result could make legal operations in the sector difficult.
In the wake of the Mobitel’s back-and-forth on this issue, WING has privately responded by assuring major Cambodian mobile clients in recent months that it does have the necessary NBC approval, a further sign that a central bank licence is fundamental.
And there is still no public explanation from Mobitel or ANZ as to why the two firms have not teamed up for what would appear to be a painfully obvious strategic partnership in mobile banking.
When WING celebrated a year of operations in Cambodia at the start of March, ANZ CEO Mike Smith was unable to explain at a press conference in Phnom Penh why the two partners at ANZ Royal had not linked up.
There thus remain more questions than answers in regard to Mobitel’s new CASH service, launched on Monday. But, given that Mobitel’s mostly rural target customer base would be unaware of this apparent discord, it is unlikely to hurt take-up of the new service.
Furthermore, around half of Cambodia’s mobile-phone subscribers use Mobitel, meaning the firm still retains huge competitive advantage. But this position of strength diminishes with the addition of each competing mobile service on the WING network.
Going up against the central bank on the licensing issue is hardly likely to help Mobitel’s cause.