HOW TO – Start a Mobile Money Business

Mobile Money (MM) is a form of electronic money service that enables phone owners send, receive and store money. The relative safety, ease of mobility and convenient nature of this service has endeared it to all sections of the society from the rich to the poor.

Before we proceed, it is important that we familiarise ourselves with some terminologies.

Agent: A person or business that is contracted to facilitate transactions for users. The most important of these are cash-in and cash-out (i.e loading and withdrawing money onto/from the MM system). They sometimes register new users, a service that earns them extra commission. As front line personnel, they also teach users how to best use the service.

mobile_money_agent

A Mobile Money agent in Kyebando, Kampala, Uganda

Aggregator: A person or business that is responsible for recruiting new MM agents. This role is sometimes combined with that of a Master Agent.

E-Money: Known as Electronic money in full. It is stored value held in the accounts of users, agents and the provider of the MM service.

Cash In: The process by which a customer credits their account with cash. This is done usually via an Agent who receives the cash and proceeds to credit the customer’s MM account.

Cash Out: The process by which a customer withdraws cash from their MM account. It is done usually by an Agent who gives the customer cash equivalent to a transfer the customer makes to the Agent’s MM line.

Float: The balance of e-money or physical cash that an agent can immediately access to meet customer demands to purchase or sell e-money.

Liquidity: The ability of an agent to meet customers’ demands to purchase (cash-in) or sell (cash-out) e-money.

MasterAgent: A person or business that purchases e-money from a Mobile Network Operator wholesale and then resells it to agents who in turn resell it to users. They usually manage the cash and e-money liquidity of their agents.

Mobile Money Transfer: A movement of value that is made from a mobile money account to another through the use of a mobile phone.

Platform: The hardware and software that enables the provision of a mobile money service.

In Uganda, the Mobile Money system works as follows;

The Mobile Network Operator (MNO) like MTN, Africell and Airtel sets up a platform that offers a service for phone owners to be able to “store and transfer” e-money using their phones.

A phone owner registers for the mobile money service with the telecommunications provider who creates the mobile money account associated with that particular registered phone number.

The customer then proceeds to cach-in onto their mobile money account by using a Mobile Money agent whom they give cash in exchange for e-money on the Mobile Money account.

This customer can through the execution of some commands send e-money to another mobile money account holder anytime they so wish. The recipient is at liberty to cash-out as and when they desire.

Just to show you how Mobile Money services have permeated our economy and become an integral part of our operations, picture the following scenarios;

  • Oloya works in Kampala and is constructing a house in the village. Every two days he is expected to pay for the services of the builders. By using MM, he is able to pay each builder directly onto their phone hence being assured of their commitment.

  • Nankabirwa is a produce dealer who has a network of buyers traversing numerous villages in Rakai, Masaka and other outlying districts. Their role is to identify produce for purchase and acquire it. By using MM, she is able to send money to these buyers of hers in the nick of time. She makes at least eight transfers daily during the peak harvesting season.

  • Pabire a rice farmer in Doho rice scheme by virtue of his mobility utilises MM transfers to pay for his workers’ services. These workers engage in activities like planting and weeding rice, land preparation, harvesting among others. This allows work to flow smoothly even in his absence.

  • Bakka leaves home for work fully knowing that there is no money for food that day. When he reaches his workplace (a washing bay), he transfers his income from washing the first three cars of the day to his wife at home using MM. Come evening, he is assured of finding food at home.

  • Sangalo is organising a wedding and she has reached out to relatives and friends to fundraise. The mode of pledge fulfillment being used is MM. Those contributing are sending their cash pledges directly onto her Mobile Money account.

  • Mugerwa, a parent at one of the boarding secondary schools is called by his son who reminds him about the study tour they are supposed to go for requiring a contribution of UGX 50,000/= per student. Instead of driving there to make payment, he simply sends th money via MM to the concerned teacher who then registers his son for the trip.

  • One can also pay for electricity, water, television and other services using Mobile Money.

So, how does one start this business as an Agent?

You need to have the following basics:

  • Two sim cards (Airtel and MTN). They are the biggest networks and handle at least 98% of the transactions. Others like Africell are still insignificant players.

  • Display Table. You need to have a display table that will not only store the tools of your trade but it can be stocked with other complementary products like mobile phones, accessories like phone jackets, screen protectors among others.

  • A dual sim card phone

  • A chair

  • Transaction books

  • Location

There are three approaches one can use to kick off. They are;

  1. Hiring a Transaction Line: This one involves hiring an already registered Mobile Money transaction line from someone or a company. With this line, you simply start off business without going through any registration hurdles. The things to note about this option include among others:

    • Paying a monthly rental fee of at least UGX 50,000/= for the MM line.

    • Income is in the form of a percentage commission earned on each transaction and is paid at the end of the month.

  1. Acquiring a Transaction Line through an Aggregator or Master Agent: Aggregators or Master Agents are companies that control specific territory on behalf of the Mobile Network Operators. Territories could include places like Kyebando, Kanyanya, Nakawa, Seeta, Bweyogerere e.t.c. These Master Agents get agency tenders through some bidding process and thereafter become responsible for licensing MM agents in their territories. For one to be licensed as an agent, you need to:

    • Present an Identity Card

    • Present a letter of introduction/recommendation from the Local Council

    • Have a deposit of UGX 80,000/= (Eighty Thousand Shillings) to purchase the kit

    • Fill in an application form

    • Have starting Float of UGX 2,000,000/= (Two Million shillings)

Income earned here is in form of commission on transactions. An additional surcharge of upto 10% (depending on the Master Agent) of your income is deducted for tax to the Uganda Revenue Authority.

  1. Direct Registration with a Mobile Network Operator (MNO): One is at liberty to register as an agent directly with an MNO like MTN or Airtel. Its requirements are more than the previous two options and they include:

    • Business Registration

    • Introduction/Recommendation letter from the Local Council

    • Functional bank account (for at least three months)

    • Filled application forms

    • An 80,000/= (Eighty Thousand Shillings) charge for the kit

    • Initial Float of UGX 2,000,000/= (Two Million Shillings) only.

Like the rest, income earned is in form of commission made on the transactions carried out. Unlike option 2 (two) above, with this form of registration, you are only charged the tax levy for Uganda Revenue Authority when your commission earnings exceed the UGX 1 Million Shillings threshold. The MNO then proceeds to deduct 4% which it channels to the tax man as opposed to the 10% deduction by Master Agents. This is definitely a better deal.

Option 1 is as instant as they get. If you want to hit the ground running, you may opt for this one. However, the margins are greatly reduced by the fact that you hire a Transaction line at a fixed monthly sum and because you are operating under another Agent, your margins are lower.

In the case of Options 2 and 3, After application and paying the UGX 80,000/= for the kit, you have to wait for two to three months prior to being approved as an agent. Once that is done, an Agent kit is availed and it consists of; three (3) phone lines, a phone handset, transaction books and other branding material like an apron.

Upon collection of this kit, you’re expected to deposit a float of UGX 2,000,000/= (two million shillings) on your Mobile Money line. Do I see you getting disheartened? True, raising this two million shillings lumpsome is a daunting task to many but there is always a way out. One trick is to borrow that money for a day, place it onto the MM line as float subject to approval and collection of your business material from the Master Agent or MNO. Once you have all that you need, proceed to cash out the borrowed money and return it to the lender.

How do you earn commission?

There is a well established commission structure clearly outlined by each MNO.

Airtel Agent’s Commission Guide (Extract)

Transaction Tiers

Cash In

Cash Out

Min

Max

500

2,500

150

100

2,501

5,000

150

125

5,001

15,000

285

450

125,001

250,000

520

1,300

1,000,001

2,000,000

4500

7,500

When a customer walks in and requests to deposit e-money onto their MM account, depending on the amount, you earn the commensurate Cash-In amount. If it is UGX 10,000/= they are depositing, then the agent will receive a cash-in of UGX 285/= on that transaction. Similarly, the Cash-Out commission applies to money withdrawals from the MM account.

Airtel does allow agents to check their commission status on a daily basis via the phone. However, the same does not seem to be true with MTN Uganda.

Success Factors for the Moble Money Agent business

  1. Trustworthiness: If you have to employ someone to operate this business on your behalf, you need to be able to trust them Anything short of that, you’re setting yourself up for failure. There are very many opportunities that these workers get to collude with crooks.

  2. Location: It is crucial to choose a location that is good. Since the commission on individual transactions looks small, the trick lies in volumes. How many transactions can you notch up a day? Ideal locations are corners of buildings or roads, boda-boda stages, busy trading centres, low cost residential suburbs, shopping arcades, taxi parks/stages among others.

    mm_corner

    A corner location like this one is very conducive for the Mobile Money business

  3. Customer Care: Many customers are ignorant about the operation of the Mobile Money services. They tend to ask questions one may consider dumb hence the need for any agent to have very good customer care skills. While researching for this article, I found agents being swamped by customers who wanted help with Sim Card verification. Imagine!!! Do not compromise on this particular issue when recruiting someone for your business.

    mm_operator

    Good customer care is dependent on the Mobile Money operator

  4. Mathematical Knowledge: The operator needs to have good mental maths skills. Customers come with all manner of requests and you need to be quick to mentally calculate and determine how much to transfer as requested. I witnessed a case where a lady came and requested the operator to cash out money from her account which has UGX 15,000/= (fifteen thousand) and ensure that it remains with only UGX 6,000/= (six thousand). He had to ensure that the transaction fees were factored in too. The operator had to first engage in some quick mental math before eventually fulfilling her request.

  5. Float Availability: How much do you have as e-money or cash? Customers keep walking in and out either cashing in or cashing out. You need to be in position to meet their needs most of the times otherwise they are likely to resort to the competition. I once had a need to cash-out UGX 300,000/=. I walked to three different MM agents in Wandegeya and none could meet my need. Out of frustration, I settled for partial cash-outs based on the float each agent had and this saw me use four different agents to meet my need. Since then, I never go to Wandegeya for MM cash-outs. Remember, if you set a reputation of always having adequate float, more customers patronise your services thereby enriching you commission-wise.

What are some of the notable challenges of this lucrative business?

  • Conmen: There are many conmen on the loose who target MM agents. Any form of sloppiness can lead to severe punishment. There was a case of a man who pulled up his sleek car infront of the agent’s display table, requested her to transfer UGX 450,000/=. She faithfully yielded as he pretended to count some money. The minute he confirmed reception of the money, he simply drove off leaving her stranded.

Most sophisticated conmen have been observed to operate from the city centre locations. So, in case you’re starting out, as you gain the experience, try to operate from the suburbs first.

  • Theft: Due to the carelessness of some agents, there cases of customers whose sole intention of patronising your service is to get to know the PIN number used to access the MM line. Most times agents type in the PIN number in full view of the customers. What the crooks then do is to later return and find a way of stealing the phone handset. Within minutes, they have withdrawn all the money and discarded the phone.

  • Cash Robbery: There are cases where an Agent has to bank the money earned. Sometimes due to late business closure, they might have to go home with the earned cash. Depending on how secretively one handles their operations, thugs tend to get wind of your earnings and simply way lay you.

  • Attention to detail: A customer once walked to an agent and requested to cash-in UGX 99,000/= (Ninety Nine thousand shillings). The agent instead punched UGX 990,000/= (Nine hundred and ninety thousand shillings). The customer paid up and left. During the evening reconciliation, she realised there was a massive shortfall and upon close scrutiny, the anomaly was discovered. It took a week of negotiations and a 100km journey to Masaka from Kampala for the money to be recovered.

  • Collusion: Some staff running the MM outlets have a tendency of conniving with other people to defraud their employer. They then feign ignorance or put the blame on mistakes.

Just to give you an idea, earnings can start from as low as UGX 50,000/= (fifty thousand shillings) per line per month with start-up Float of UGX 500,000/= (Five hundred thousand shillings) reaching an average of UGX 1,000,000/= (one million shillings) with a float of UGX 3,000,000/= (Three Million shillings).

The monthly pay for Mobile Money Operators ranges between UGX 100,000/= and UGX 150,000/=.

While offering the MM services, always consider selling complimentary products like Airtime, Flash disks, Memory cards among others. Airtime commissions can very easily supplement your income too. The current commission structure on airtime of UGX 10,000/= (ten thousand shillings) is as follows:

MNO

% Commission

MTN Uganda

4%

Airtel

5%

Africell

7%

Welcome to the Mobile Money Business.

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

Other Articles of Interest:

Additional information from GSMA – Mobile Money for the unbanked.

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27 responses to “HOW TO – Start a Mobile Money Business

  1. Hello, thank a lot for this article. Here is my question for you: let say I want to start my own company of mobile money transfer, where can I find the software? Is it possible to start that business if you don’t own mobile phone campany like MTN AIRTEL…?

    • Currently you cannot run a Mobile Money system without the Telecoms involvement. However, if you put your head to task, I am sure you can innovate solution that bypasses them. Can you try to think harder? Maybe you will be the next star innovator in the mobile money space.

  2. AHEREZA CLAIRE

    i hv loved this
    thank u James for the advice’s u hv taken a way my fear

  3. But I here they no longer issue lines under master agent u must have a company is it true or I apply kindly help

    • If you are dealing with mtn direct, you must be an incorporated business. However, if you go to their master agents, you dont have to.

      I have requested mtn to give me the detailed procedures of becoming their MM agent. I should be able to post the information here once I have it. Subscribe to the blog and you will be able to follow it through email

  4. Thank you James i have read a lot and have knowledge,hope to get my own line 2018 following your views inorder to avoid challenges of hiring .

  5. Dear James, I have a line rented from some one but the commission for September was given to me less 5,000 indicating it was tax. could you be knowing the tax rates as this is not shown in the tax breakdown.

    • If I’m not mistaken, it’s URA tax on income. When you open your own like, you’ll only pay that tax when you get revenues over 1 million. Below that you’re not taxed.
      So, the more reason to work hard and get your own line.

      Otherwise keep up the good work and as you earn more, diversify your investments.

  6. Please how can I access my commission breakdown for September 2017, am renting a line from an agent and he is the one having the commission line

    • You have to contact the agent because the Telecom doesn’t know you.
      When you start making some good returns, I advise you register directly with a super dealer or the Telecom directly.

  7. Opolot Oturu Joe Simmon

    Are SACCO’s also eligible to start the business

  8. Thank you very much for this very thorough article. It explains how to become an agent better than any other article I have seen. Very helpful indeed. Keep up the great work!

  9. Ojara stephen

    Plans are always succesesful where there more consultation.thanks

  10. Hello james..last month I made ard 350,000= on mtn as commission but they paid me 285,000=.that means I paid tax of ard 65000=..how come they deduct all that tax from my commission ? Thanks will be waiting for your reply..Leonard

    • As far as I know, tax deductions are made from lines that transact more than 1 million. Follow up with your service provider. They should also give you a breakdown of the tax if any

    • Lorna Nyakoker

      Hi Leonard I just wanted to ask how. Much float did you use to start up ur business

  11. Thanks,but If I Rent Acard,how Wil I Get My Commission

  12. bwambale mitusera

    i would like to start up a mobile money outlet what procedures should i follow,

    • If you have read the article, you should be armed with enough information to decide on the way forward. For any more information, I advise you to visit the service centres of the Telcos.

  13. Acheles Karungi

    How then can one hire a transaction line, How can one have access to lines being hired out. Thanks a lot

  14. Thank you James for the posts you always share with us. they are educative are we learn allot from them
    thank you alot

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