Tag Archives: mobile phones

He Died!! Where did his Mobile Money go?

On his way home from work, he hired a bodaboda to help him swiftly navigate the traffic jam only to get involved in a nasty accident that saw him lose his life. Charlie (name not real), was an ambitious young man who was out to curve a better world for himself. In his business, he used a lot of Mobile Money (MM) transactions since they offered a lot of flexibility and security. When he died, no one knew about the financial status of his MM account nor his pin code. Not even his wife!!!

Such scenarios are common in Uganda. People die, lose phones with their simcards or travel out of the country only to return years later and the Mobile Money is no longer available.

Where does this Mobile Money go? This is the key question.

It is typical of the telecom companies in Uganda to reassign phone numbers that have not been in use for a while. This re-assignment is done in such a manner that any Mobile Money that was on that account gets erased too. I have a sim card from Airtel and once, due to a long period of inactivity, it was deactivated. Before the deactivation, I had deposited UGX 20,000/= on the Moble Money. Upon reactivation, when I inquired about the MM, all I was told was that I had to register afresh. No explanation was given for the absence of my MM previously deposited.

Imagine a telecom deactivating at least 300 sim cards per day. Of those, let’s say 50% have Mobile Money leftovers that average out to UGX 20,000/= on their individual accounts. This gives a total of UGX 3,000,000/= (Three Million) daily being taken over by the Telecoms company. In a month, this works out to UGX 90,000,000/= (Ninety Million) and a year, that adds up to a conservative estimate of UGX 1,080,000,000/= (One billion, eighty million).

This may not look like much money to the telecom company but a quick analysis reveals that it can pay the annual salaries of at least ten middle level managers with each earning in the region of Eight to Nine Million shillings. This same amount can be used to pay up for the lease on the cars used by the telecom.

While appearing as a small loss on the part of the customer, this money when aggregated becomes massive and this is where the telecom companies benefit unscrupulously.

In another scenario, someone deposits UGX 1,000,000/= (One Million) onto the MM account and does not use it for a period of two weeks. The telecom company earns interest off that money but the customer is only entitled to the principal amount deposited. This is another ugly scar rearing its head in the MM field. Every day, you have Billions of Shillings deposited onto the Mobile Money systems and they earn a hefty sum for the Telecoms companies even if they remain unused for a mere few days. Is it fair that the status-quo continues? Isn’t it time the consumer was given their due?

Well, some telecoms have come up with a spinoff savings scheme using MM but that is like dragging wool over our eyes as clients. Whether I enroll for the savings scheme or not, for as long as I have my Mobile Money on the phone, it is prudent that any interest earned by the telco be passed on to me too (at least a fraction).

Currently there is no serious modality when it comes to regulation of Mobile Money. Like loan sharks, the players set their rules and determine how the game is played. Apart from the requirement by the Central Bank for the Telcos to have bank accounts that backup the electronic money with actual cash reserves, there is nothing more. When MTN suffered an internal MM fraud setback some years back, it was a result of system manipulation that led to issuing of more electronic money than the actual bank reserves had.

In this era as we transition from paper to digital money, it is prudent that the Bank of Uganda wakes up to its responsibility. They need to move swiftly with the times, work with the Uganda Communications Commission and any other parties to ensure that we have a fair and forward looking environment that will see a greater adoption of MM.

Digital Money is a reality we are faced with and have to ready ourselves to embrace it fully.

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

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

What the Do Not Disturb Register means to you

In December 2010 after so much frustration complaining with Telecom Operators over phone SPAM (Unsolicited Messages), I did post the message below on the I-Network Mailing list about a possible solution.

The email of concern I sent out in December 2010

The email of concern I sent out in December 2010

This suggestion was based on the Australian experience where the Government actually has a law on this problem of unsolicited phone calls and messages. The Do Not Call Register Act 2006 outlaws telemarketing activities targeting phone subscribers listed in the Do Not Call Registry.

I am glad to note that the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) published a notice in the leading news papers today the 10th of November 2014 on the Do Not Disturb (DnD) register requiring all Telecommunications service providers, Information and Content providers to implement an opt out method using 196.

What is a Do Not Call / Do Not Disturb registry? It is a registry that allows the phone user to opt out of telemarketing messages and calls addressed to your phone number.

Are you fed up of messages like this?

Typical Spam (Unsolicited) Message

Typical Spam (Unsolicited) Message

Do you wonder where such messages keep coming from and how they get your numbers? Well, if you attend wedding meetings or fill in your number on the numerous lists that are compiled at the entry points of most Government buildings among others, then you can’t survive such consequences. Some content providers have made it a habit to maintain databases of numbers from their clients long after the services have been terminated and sold off that to other telemarketers.

How does the Do Not Disturb (DnD) Registry work?

A user that wants to stop receiving unwanted messages simply punches the code *196# and sends. The service provider then automatically gets that number registered onto the DnD registry. As simple as that. As a matter of fact, I have received messages from MTN and UTL in the past week telling me about this feature and I immediately activated my numbers. As I write, I have some sanity in my inbox.

Should we expect registration to stop all telemarketing calls?

I would say not exactly. While it might reduce these calls by close to 90%, you will still have calls coming through from some service providers who you subscribe to like your bankers, Insurance, pub, school among others. So when that stray message comes through, it is important to first establish your relationship with the sender before filing a complaint.

Currently, there are a number of rogue content providers out there who are treating the business like the Wild West and flaunt any available rules to carelessly send out telemarketing messages without shame. These definitely will continue with their habits but the onus will be upon us to work with the service providers to weed them out. There however is an association that brings together the professional sane thinking Content providers called Wireless Application Services Providers Association of Uganda and I encourage all of us consumers to use them as a point of contact when we have issues to do with unsolicited content. I once was being spammed by a member of this association and on raising the issue, their member promptly acted.

What hasn’t been made clear though is the process of delisting from this registry in case one would like to resume receiving those telemarketing messages and calls. UCC needs to come up with this too so that it doesn’t turn out to be the one way move that is appears to be currently.

UCC also doesn’t spell out the kind of reprisals the errant operators will face once they do not operationalise the directive and while it may still be a work in progress, as consumers we are eager to know the kind of punishments our tormenters are going to face.

One of the biggest losers are likely going to be the SMS vendors whose business plan rotates around sending mass messages for wedding meetings and various functions. They shall be expected to comply and judging by how many people are already fed up with such messages, the DnD registry will cut down on their revenues significantly.

The others are the johnny come lately sms jobs cheats, news vendors and love doctors who lure people into a subscription and then start charging them for receiving messages.

Well done UCC and we look forward to better times as consumers.