OPINION: Visa bring worthwhile innovation to mobile money

OPINION: Visa bring worthwhile innovation to mobile money

Visa and MasterCard have been viewed with reasonable suspicion by Africa’s network operators and even banks when it comes to their motives on the mobile money scene, but their latest partnership with Orange Money should ruffle a few feathers.

It has not gone unnoticed that between them, Visa and MasterCard have bought up a stable of innovative mobile money companies in the past few years, with industry insiders and analysts viewing it as a way of protecting their own interests.

Fundamo, founded by Hannes Van Rensburg in 2000, was one of those companies identified by Visa and was subsequently purchased for US$110 million.

Ngoni Simelane, head of technology and innovation at South Africa’s Standard Bank, went so far as to say in April the future of payments had no role for the two powerful and iconic payment brands.

In June, MasterCard partnered with Etisalat in Egypt to roll out the world’s first Arabic mobile wallet, but industry expert Duncan Arthur told HumanIPO at the time the partnership between card companies and networks was unlikely to set a trend.

Visa however, may have come up with a game changer by launching its prepaid card with Orange Money in Botswana yesterday. It is Van Rensburg, now Visa’s head of digital solutions for emerging markets, that is heading up the innovation.

The card will allow Orange Money accounts to be loaded onto the equivalent of a debit card, which can then be used at ATMs, online and at outlets.

Visa and Orange said once up and running in Botswana, they plan to roll out the project in its other African markets.

The concept has the potential to empower even further the millions of unbanked Africans, giving them financial powers they have been unable to wield before.

Perhaps the most exciting potential in Visa’s prepaid card, is the impact it could have on Africa’s e-commerce market – currently held back not only by low internet penetration, but by the low numbers of people with bank accounts.

Since M-Pesa exploded onto the scene in Kenya in 2007, the mobile and banking industries have been looking for the next big thing to take mobile money to the next level.

Now it seems Visa, albeit through its strategy of acquire, acquire, acquire, have come up with the answer.

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