It was just over a few years ago when the concept of easypaisa was unveiled to the public. It is one of the biggest products launched by a mobile operator in Pakistan in terms of advertising mileage and has been claimed by Telenor Pakistan to be revolutionary. From the TV to the radio to the Internet, it’s almost as if one can’t spend more than two minutes on these without easypaisa popping up.
At the launch event in Karachi in October 2009, the CEO of Telenor Pakistan Jon Eddy Abdullah said easypaisa will allow you to make your bill payments, transfer money domestically and internationally, as well as deposit and withdraw money through the device that is always within your reach: your mobile phone. He promised that this service will change the way financial transactions are carried out in this country.
So far, Bill Payment, Money Transfer and Mobile Account services have been launched, and most people who have tried out these services seem to be satisfied. What remains to be seen is whether the next phase of easypaisa will take off, because the idea behind it is certainly monumental.
“Domestic remittances and mobile-based products are where easypaisa is going to make the most impact,” said Arif Abdul Qayyum, Director Financial Services Telenor Pakistan. “These can tap the unbanked population of the country, especially help those who are working in cities and need to send money to their families,” he tells Blue Chip.
The story of easypaisa began when a call was made to the Telenor helpline with an idea of fusing mobile facilities with banking services as means for social advancement. The idea was passed on to the development team, who carried out a detailed feasibility study on the background of Pakistan’s available banking options.
“In this country, only 12% of the adult population has access to bank accounts. Most people are locked out of the existing financial infrastructure, which is why the underground market, despite it being unsafe, is thriving. On the other hand, there is a huge chunk of the population that carries a mobile phone. Our ultimate objective is to eventually avail the banking services through this tool,” he says.
Telenor Pakistan’s partner, also its 51% subsidiary Tameer Microfinance Bank, has a vision of financial inclusion that fits perfectly with that of Telenor. One obvious hurdle to really making a difference is the trust factor i.e. getting people to actually try out a new service. “Once the benefits are known, the market will adapt. At this point, we are only touching into the potential of what this service can become. There will come a time when we cross a tipping point, and then we will be seeing something huge,” says Arif Abdul Qayyum.
Telenor Pakistan has recorded some 420,000 remittances within Pakistan in just over a few months since easypaisa’s launch. Though, Arif says, educating the market about financial services has been a task at hand. “We need to stress that we have introducedeasypaisa as a bank-led model with Tameer Microfinance Bank ensuring all processes are aligned with the mandate of State Bank of Pakistan. At the same time, Telenor Pakistan has a dedicated team looking after cash management to ensure things are smooth at the retailer’s end. We have multiple safeguards in our processes to protect the customers. If they still encounter problems, they can call our helpline 111-345-100, where a team of investigators will immediately look into their complaints. If fraud is proven, consumers will be completely compensated,” he explains.
To see personally how the market is reacting to Over the Counter products, I spoke to aneasypaisa merchant, a straightforward shopkeeper by the name of Waheed. He tells me that because of easypaisa, more people walk into his shop every day, and he is seeing more volume in his other sales too. “I never thought I will be playing this role for the people around me. Yes, I make money, but I also like that I get to help people send money to their families that live far away,” he says.
When I ask him if customers will be reluctant to test out a new product due to fear of fraud, he smiles and says, “Telenor is a big name, and like all big companies, they protect their reputation. If something goes wrong, there is a proper channel where you can make your complaint, which is better than using hundi and hawala. But, of course, it will take some time for more customers to come,” he says.
The launch of Mobile Account has changed the way people now look at their banking options. A student at a University, Ahmed Naqvi, finds the concept of a mobile account innovative for the ease it brings to his life: “I am generally too busy with my studies and a part-time job to find time to run errands. Through Mobile Account, I can now transfer money and even pay my bills at my convenience. It is definitely a unique idea.”
Truth be told, at this point, while the product is impressive, the magnitude of its impact remains to be seen. Some say that helping people get access to financial services is central to improving their livelihood. With a service like easypaisa, this opens a whole new horizon for some people. But does it really have the potential to be revolutionary? Time will tell, especially if other mobile operators initiate similar services, then it really might become a force to reckon.