Airtel: of paying bills and sending money

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The Madhavan-Vidya Balan series has a couple of new spots. In one,  hubby returning home is gently quizzed by his wife whether he has ‘sent money to papa’. And in the other, she does a check list of bills to be paid while on a train, on their way (presumably) for a holiday. (Moral of the story: when you have to pay bills, go on a holiday). I prefer these to the earlier lot in terms of acting & realism. Madhavan does a great job with his understated doubletake when he remembers that he has not sent the money or paid the mobile bill. The muted nature of the ads and the ‘real’ conversations make them stand out. Visa has been pushing their Visa Bill Pay service through a separate TVC (mindless, body, heart & soul?).

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Interesting push from service providers to encourage over-the-air transactions. In terms of products, sending money on the phone is likely to be a killer app. The logistics need to be simple though. I was reading about a product called M-PESA, a transaction product from Kenya’s Safaricom. It enables its customers to send money to each other by text message. Cheaper and faster than ordinary money transfers, it now moves $1.5m a day across Kenya, in mostly tiny transactions. The service does not require users to have bank accounts, an important aspect in a country like Kenya, where many people do not have bank accounts. With M-PESA, the user can buy digital funds at any M-PESA agent and send that electric cash to any other mobile phone user in Kenya, who can then redeem it for conventional cash at any agent.

I was using m-Chek on Airtel to pay my mobile bills, through SMS. Now it requires a Java-based app to be downloaded. While I have paid bills through this, it still has some glitches – repsonses like ‘operation timed out’ have been common. So you are left wondering if your card has been charged twice. Even with money transfer, the process is likely to have limited appeal as of now. According to the Airtel website, ‘now you can transfer money using the Airtel mobile and any ICICI / HDFC / Corporation bank VISA debit card or any SBI bank account to any VISA card or m-commerce enabled Airtel mobile in the country’. So the appeal is likely to be limited, unlike the M-PESA which was more mass.

As of now, services like m-Chek, Yatra and several others allow you to pay phone bills, insurance premia, book flight, bus and movie tickets. The credit card waiving top tier is likely to adopt them first. The trick is in getting it popular beyond the early adopters. India now has 26 million credit card users and 272 million cellular subscribers. And unless the credit card base goes up (no signs of that?), value add services through the mobile will be the future.

The Madhavan-Viday Balan commercials promise an easy of transaction that may belie the actual experience. Nevertheless, great effort to push value-added services on the mobile.

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  • Another Fanatastic business opportunity !!

    Transfering money from your mobile account to another mobile account. The service providers become virtual banks. In future you will have Mobile cards rather than a credit cards. And we are talking of 272 million subscribers !!

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