The Mobile Wallet that no Mobile Network Operator wants…yet!

The Quest to buy a Wallet

Consider the following scenario. Your significant other asks you to go to the mall and buy her a new wallet.

You browse through the various collections on display, examining the pockets, the size, the folds, the pouches, how many slots for cards, a transparent leaf for the placement of ID, kids pictures, button closure, etc.

You pick one that you think would be practical, pay for it and take it home.

Never once did you think about a wallet that was restricted in any manner. After all, what is a restricted wallet anyway?

Well, let us rewind the situation… your significant other asks you to go purchase a wallet for her.

You arrive at the mall and head down to one of the stores that sells women’s wallets. You’re greeted by a sales clerk. She shows you wallets and says:

This red one will hold US Dollars only and nothing more. No cards, no change, no ID and no pictures

You are not impressed. You ask her to show you the brown one…

This brown one will hold British Pounds, provided they are deposited by Barclays Bank only. Oh! And same things, no cards, no change, no ID and certainly no pictures.

What rubbish, you’re thinking. So you smile and ask if she can show you that cute little white wallet?

Oh this one is my favorite. It will only work with AirTel mobile, and only if your wife has an Android phone, it can hold Indian Rupees, no cards, and with this wallet, you can only pay to another white wallet by the same manufacturer.


Womens Wallet

Okay, last attempt before you storm out of this silly store. You ask her to show you this large almost purse-like wallet.

This is one of our finest. It works only if you have an Apple phone and are a Vodaphone customer. You can store cards, and British Pounds and even store a picture or two. It can store Loyalty cards as well — oh, only the ones with whom we have a relationship. And you can pay anyone that has a similar looking purse.

You storm out of the store, fuming.

Turns out, no matter which shop you enter. All the wallets have these silly conditions attached to them.

But wait… there’s more agony!

As if the whole buying experience hasn’t put you off, here is the kicker:

All wallets come with a condition, that when you load money into your wallet, you have to pay a fees to the wallet manufacturer.

Yes! Everytime you load money onto the wallet or pay someone else, a fee has to go to the wallet manufacturer.

Think about this for a minute. Load money into a wallet, pay a fees. Cash out, pay a fees. Pay someone else, pay a fee.

Will You Buy?

Would you really buy a physical wallet like this in real-life?

Fuck No! Of-course not. You won’t.

Such a product would be a huge failure. Imagine for a second that you had to live in a world that came with such restrictions. Running from pillar to post trying to find someone who had the same wallet as yours. Or trying to pay another wallet – but the process is so darn complex (if you are able to pay at all).

Imagine the wallet maker telling you what you can and cannot store in your wallet. Where you can and cannot spend money. What type of money you can and cannot keep.

There would be worldwide revolt.

You want to know what the irony is – in the digital space, you’re doing just that.

Somehow, we have subscribed to this very scenario in our digital worlds when it comes to mobile wallets.

The rationale for an agnostic wallet

So the question to ask is why don’t we have truly agnostic wallets. We come pretty close to being agnostic, but from a mobile carrier point of view (who control the bulk of the mobile wallet ecosystem – 100s of millions of wallets), the terms and conditions attached to each wallet are very authoritative to say the least.

What are some elements that constitute an agnostic wallet? Here are a few:

  • The mobile carrier
  • The financial institution
  • The payment instruments you can keep in the wallet
  • The OS of the phone
  • The type of phone
  • What you can store in it (or not)
  • Loading / Off-loading of money should be free or with very low fees
  • Interoperability amongst other wallets
  • High rate of acceptance, etc.

Many will cite this as armchair postulating, but when you closely examine the physical nature of how we spend money, it makes total sense.

What is the digital equivalent of the physical wallet? Very few examples come to mind. Is technology the barrier? Certainly not.

Compartmentalized thinking is the barrier, better known as a walled-garden approach.

MNOs are notorious for operating mobile wallets that are restricted on so many fronts. Even basic issues like interoperability are being fought tooth and nail within, but on the outside such interoperable efforts are being marred by politics, lobbying and deliberate delays in the form of legal frameworks and consensus on how to achieve it.

Can we really have a digital equivalent of a physical wallet?

Absolutely! If in doubt – re-read this sentence from the start.

I can speak from experience. Having interviewed 100s of people over the past two years (in a personal capacity), the major impediments are straightforward and listed above. When one studies physical wallets and mobile (digital) wallets side-by-side, you will then clearly be able to differentiate between the two. The service offering on mobile wallets, for lack of a better way to express it – is extremely limited elbow room.

Which wallet offers the digital equivalent of cash online? You’d be hard pressed to come up with a name.

Which wallet offers true interoperability?

Which wallet works anywhere in the world?

These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves. It is not about technology any more. It is about behavior. Juxtapose behavioral models onto the digital landscape and you have sowed the seeds of success.

Sadly, outside the MNOs small frameworks of agnostic wallets exist. They are so small, that they hardly announce themselves above the noise.

WeChat, AliPay, bKash, PayTm, GCash, PayPal, QIWI, M-Pesa, etc. are all trying to align themselves, but each has its own sets of geographical, regulatory, internal road-map and service offering restrictions.

We’re able to move information across the world or across the table without much effort, yet, moving value is proving to be much more difficult. Heck, we don’t even have an assigned protocol for moving value (unless you want to take Bitcoin into consideration, but then BTC has very limited footprint).

Just to give you a sense of the problem, the largest card payment network / schemes, i.e. VISA and MasterCard haven’t been able to deliver an intra-network wallet (yet!)

Is it about the underlying consensus? Perhaps. Is protocol a barrier to entry? Maybe. Are we holding on to legacy methods of making money (transaction based)? Absolutely!

So what’s stopping us?

What stops organizations from doing things differently?

Simply put, a pair of balls. Oh yeah, vision helps also!

You need a top-down approach that not only believes in the idea, but is willing to take visionary blueprints and make them a reality. Prophesize the idea. Find anchors merchants and clients to subscribe to it.

Defeat the complacent barbarians at the gates who insist that a zero-fee transactionary network cannot make money.

In markets that are price sensitive or where grey economies loom, taxation is a huge issue. Merchant adoption remains low on mobile wallet if they have to register their business, hence it is no wonder that 100,000s of merchants prefer mobile wallets in their name rather than the business.

Are we edging closer to this utopian model? Yes we are. The matter has been debated too much. Companies are now putting concerted effort into making this a reality. There will be pushback and resistance from all quarters concerned, but as the Borg say, Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.


2 thoughts on “The Mobile Wallet that no Mobile Network Operator wants…yet!”

  1. Brilliant ! But these wallets are residing on the back end system. The real beauty is the app where all these relationship will appear for customers.. So the app is the main driver for customers to buy these wallets.

  2. Faisal, great post.

    Several years ago, when I was researching, writing and consulting on the use of 2D bar code (e.g., QR code, Microsoft Tag, etc.) technology for marketing and advertising purposes, the very same thing that you mention with wallets was more or less happening with codes, and thoughts similar to what you raise above ran through my mind.

    For whatever reason(s), technology and consumer product goods companies wanted to come up with their own version of a 2D bar code but, in reality, the generic, field-tested and open-source QR code worked just fine. There simply was no need for companies to develop a proprietary code and fragment the marketplace which, in reality, made things much more difficult for consumers. Instead of one code reader app on their phone they would need two or three, just so the proprietary codes could be scanned and utilized.

    Similar to your thoughts, I always wondered why companies that wanted to use and promote 2D technology didn’t band together and say, “Hey, let’s all get on the same page and support QR codes, the de facto standard.” And, to do this not because it made their lives any easier, but because it would make the consumer’s life easier.

    At a time when companies are starting to figure out and realize that it’s not the product or service that matters most, but the interactive experience a consumer has with a brand/product/service, why should issues like the ones you describe above happen? As you say, people need to have the guts to take a stand and say, let’s put the customer first, and truly mean it, and if that means standardizing a group of products or technology then so be it…a rising tide raises all ships.

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