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Business News of Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Source: B&FT

Mobile Money boom; thousands scramble for agency jobs

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On a misty afternoon on Tuesday in Accra, Mary Agyekum sits by a desk, arms akimbo, earpiece in ear and looking pensive which she recalls is the result of a slowdown in business transaction for the day.

Ms. Agyekum, a 24-year old teller of a mobile money agent, is indebted to her employer for offering her a salaried job for the first time in three years after losing her ‘work and pay’ hair salon business to the electricity challenges that overwhelmed the country recently.

Her employer, ‘Godsway Enterprise’ is part of the tens of thousands of agents that have now found comfort in a trade that even the banks see as the prime vehicle to enhance financial inclusion.

According to the Bank of Ghana, the number of registered mobile money agents has now hit 93,376 as of the end of the first three months of this year, which is a 200 percent increase in the number of registered agents in just a year.

The rush for the mobile money agency jobs has thrilled telecom providers who have likened the agency craze to the ‘Space-to-space’ business that typified the liberalization of the telecom sector in the late 90s. ‘Space-to-space’ was a popular wireless communication service that allowed people to make on-net calls to mobile phones using a mobile device provided by Scancom Ghana operators of Spacefon, now MTN.

Now, the boom in mobile money uptake and transaction has swayed many people to venture into being agents for the service amid rise in unemployment in the country. There are presently a little above 5.3 million mobile money customers in a country of an estimated 27 million people.

“This is not my principal business, I sell computer accessories. I am doing this because mobile money is everywhere,” CEO of NBK Banya Enterprise, Nicholas Obijator Ayeng told the B&FT.

“I was forced into this business (mobile money) because I was jobless and had to found something to do. And because mobile money is popular, I got the clue to do something for myself,” Ransford Adjetey of Godsway Enterpprise said.

Currently, there are four mobile network operators who are offering mobile money service in the country.

According to the central bank, the value of mobile money transaction reached GH?35.4billion at the end of last, an increment of more than 216 percent over the previous year.

At the end of the first quarter of this year, the value of transaction hit GH?13.76 billion, more than twice the GH?5.94 billion recorded for a similar period last year.

The surge in mobile money usage shows the vital role telecom companies are playing to advance the central bank’s cashlite economy agenda, and also ensure that the push for more financial inclusion is brought into the hands of millions of Ghanaians.

Industry watchers say the growth of mobile money will allow millions of people who are otherwise excluded from the formal financial system to perform financial transactions relatively cheaply, securely, and reliably.

However, some mobile money agents, despite the popularity of the service, have noted that the agency job is not as lucrative as people think.

Mr. Ayeng explained; “There is no profit in the mobile money business. If someone tells you that there is money, then they are lying.

“If someone withdraws GH?100 I only get 20 pesewas. How much of that will add up to one cedis. And I am supposed to eat and pay rent!

“Even customers are complaining about the charges. If a customer withdraws GH?1,000 they are charged GH?10 and only two percent of that comes to the agent. We are the facilitators of the process and if not all of the GH?10, a good part should come to the agent.”

“It is the transfer that we can money but we are not allowed to do transfers now.”

This perhaps explains why the central bank says only 73.4 percent of the registered mobile money agents are in active business.

But for tellers like Mary Agyekum, mobile money service has helped to change the economic lifestyle of Ghanaians and could be the panacea the central bank has been searching to achieve its much touted cashlite society.