Photograph — Nikkei Asia

Telecommunications giant, Airtel Africa is banking on partnerships to drive its mobile money service across the region. The network operator this week announced an agreement with Ecobank Transnational Incorporated to improve access to mobile financial services for millions of its customers.

Through the bank’s digital ecosystem, users of Airtel Money can carry out different mobile transactions such as online deposits and withdrawals, real-time domestic and international money transfers, in-store merchant payments, loans and savings.

Ecobank will also sponsor Airtel Money to issue both virtual and physical debit and pre-paid cards to its mobile money customers. On the flip side, the bank’s corporate account holders can make bulk disbursements, such as payroll payments, directly into Airtel Money customer wallets.

The collaboration with Ecobank is a “further demonstration of Airtel Africa’s commitment to providing affordable, simple and innovative solutions for our consumers across Africa,” said Raghunath Mandava, CEO of Airtel Africa, a subsidiary of India-based Bharti Airtel.

In addition to the Ecobank partnership, which is subject to regulatory approval in each market, Mandava said the company will continue to offer locally relevant mobile solutions with partners such as Ecobank in order to “enhance the daily lives” of its customers.

The telecoms firm plans to promote Airtel Money to its 100 million network users across 14 African countries through partnerships with both traditional and modern players in the financial services industry.

Earlier this month, the firm announced a partnership with Mastercard to connect its customers to the latter’s global payments network. And on Monday, it issued a press release disclosing a collaboration with payment and foreign exchange services firm Finablr which allows users to transfer funds from over 100 countries to their Airtel wallets in Africa.

Airtel Money customers can make payments to local and global online merchants that accept Mastercard cards using a virtual (non-plastic) card. The service is available even to those without a bank account.

There is also the benefit of competitive pricing and preferential exchange rates for international payments, as well as access to other domestic uses including bill and merchants payments, and other value-added services.

Across Africa, mobile internet connections are expected to grow rapidly due to the proliferation of low-cost smartphones and high-speed GSM networks being rolled out by network operators. This, in turn, is creating increased demand for mobile commerce and a need to make online payments easily and securely by both banked and unbanked consumers.

The recent partnerships significantly bolster Airtel’s position as one of the largest offline-to-online digital payment networks in the FinTech space, which ultimately contributes to the globally-shared cause of achieving financial inclusion and digital transformation.

Such partnerships, revolutionary in the telecoms and financial industries, give millions of people better access to financial services and the digital world.

A recent report by Deloitte Africa and Mastercard said that although technological advancements make digital payments and services more accessible and affordable to people, the usage of such products is subject to how well payments providers collaborate to meet their needs. It added that players in the payments ecosystem need to rethink how they both compete and collaborate.

An example of where this collaboration could be most effective is between players in the telecommunications and banking sectors such as Airtel and Ecobank. The combined strengths of financial and cellular services offer the opportunity to provide payment solutions as well as increased customer utility among the large customer bases of mobile phone operators.

“If the converging industry players can move towards greater interoperability and partnerships, the end result must be an increase in payments offerings and better financial services, which answer customer needs with greater effect,” said Dr Martyn Davies, Deloitte Africa’s Managing Director for Emerging Markets and Africa.

Partnerships among industry players come with the benefit of improving the customer experience and increasing the adoption of digital payments and services, thereby reducing cash dependency. “Ultimately this will lead to increased financial inclusion and inclusive growth,” Davies added.

Airtel Africa is a leading provider of telecommunications and mobile money services with a presence in 14 countries in Africa, primarily in East, Central, and West Africa. It offers an integrated suite of telecommunications solutions to its subscribers, including mobile voice and data services as well as mobile money services both nationally and internationally.

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