For Telenor Group, the key to fostering inclusive digital finance is collaboration and open technologies.

By Johanna Stemberger, Telenor Financial Services

The digitization of the financial services industry is in full swing. Seamless in-app payments enable smartphone users to pay for rides, tickets, food, etc. with just one click.
Pay with Wave Money AdIn emerging markets, where most of the world’s 2 billion adults without bank accounts live, basic financial services have improved over the last decade: mobile operators and banks enable customers to store and transfer funds using their mobile phones. Still, developers and digital innovators struggle to reach users in these cash-based markets.
How can we foster innovation in financial technology for low-income consumers through products and services that promote digital financial inclusion? Telenor Group believes the answer to this question is to collaborate and open up. We’re going to discuss two examples below.

Accelerating the Pace of Financial Innovation With Open APIs

Telenor Group joined the mobile financial services industry in 2009, when we launched the mobile money service Easypaisa in Pakistan together with Tameer Bank (now Telenor Microfinance Bank). In 2016, Wave Money – a joint venture between Telenor, Yoma Bank and First Myanmar Investment – entered Myanmar as its first licensed mobile money operator. Today, Telenor serves more than 20 million mobile money customers in Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia. And now we are giving fintechs and innovators access to our mobile financial services platforms in Pakistan and Myanmar via open APIs. “The local startup scenes in Pakistan and Myanmar bring great solutions with the potential to improve people’s lives. Many local fintechs have already experienced complex integration processes with large providers, and we were no exception. But when they use our open APIs, they can reduce their effort and cost of integrating as well as accelerate the pace of innovation,” explained Roar Bjærum, Head of Telenor Financial Services. “Everyone benefits,” he continued. “Innovators can monetize and scale their products, and our customers can access digital services they previously could not.”

APIs allow two software programs to communicate with each other. In the case of mobile money, the API defines the way a developer should write a program that successfully requests services from the mobile money platform. For example, this would allow an application like Uber or Amazon to link directly to a mobile wallet instead of a credit card or bank account.

Wave Money Developer Portal –Myanmar

Wave Money's Developer Portal sign up screen

Wave Money’s Developer Portal

Wave Money, Myanmar’s leading mobile financial services provider, enables its customers to send and receive money and buy airtime via a smartphone app or at one of the 12,500 Wave shops.

In a country where more than 80 percent of the population does not have a bank account and payments are done almost exclusively with cash, the growing e-commerce and digital services scene was quickly interested in linking to Wave’s system.

As a first step, Wave launched “Pay with Wave Money,” a product enabling e-commerce players to plug in payment functionality to their websites and apps. However, the integration process was manual and therefore hard to scale. They then came up with the idea to build the Developer Portal as the first fintech open API in Myanmar. Merchants can integrate themselves by entering specific information and uploading the necessary documents. By availing the open API, hundreds more merchants can access this payment functionality far more quickly and easily—a significant step towards building a cashless economy in Myanmar.

First Asian Mobile Money Hackathon – Pakistan

Telenor Microfinance Bank, which runs Pakistan’s leading mobile money service Easypaisa, has also opened up access to its platform, using the harmonized set of mobile money APIs designed by industry stakeholders around the globe. This October, together with the GSMA, JazzCash and Karandaaz, Telenor Microfinance Bank invited developers to participate at a mobile money hackathon, a weekend challenge of testing and building solutions connected to merchant and bill payments.

13 teams participated and presented their ideas, ranging from e-challan (electronic statutory payments) to pay-bots for Facebook Messenger. The winning team proposed a solution geared towards families and the educational sector: it enables parents to directly pay school fees with their mobile phones, to pay for meals at school cantinas, to monitor food consumption to ensure a healthy diet, and to communicate directly with teachers.

Shahid Mustafa, President and CEO, Telenor Microfinance Bank, with the winning team.

Shahid Mustafa, President and CEO, Telenor Microfinance Bank, with the winning team. Source: Telenor

It is too early to know the impact of such third party services on the overall levels of financial inclusion in Pakistan and Myanmar. The significant interest and motivation that both Wave Money and Telenor Microfinance Bank experienced during their first interactions with the digital community indicates that soon, consumers in emerging markets may have access to a broad set of innovative, inclusive digital services.

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Telenor is participating in Financial Inclusion Week 2017, where organizations around the globe join the global conversation on the most important steps to advance financial inclusion. Join the discussion on Twitter using #FinclusionWeek.