MWC Day Four: Mobeam, Mobile Money And Wrapping Up

What's Next In Payments®
5:50 AM EST March 1st, 2013

By Ben Carsley, Writer/Editor (@BC_PYMNTS)

Welcome to Day Four of PYMNTS.com’s Mobile World Congress 2013 Recap: a comprehensive look at all the most important payments announcements and coolest stories from MWC2013 in Barcelona, Spain.

We were live on-site for all four days of the conference to bring you as many major news stories, fascinating tidbits, product reviews/demos and more from one of the industry’s biggest and most important shows. If you missed Day One, catch our write-up here. Our Day Two roundup can be found here, and Day Three here.

Mobeam

Mobeam made headlines on Monday by announcing their new partnership with ams, and on the final day of MWC I was finally able to swing by their booth and see what all the fuss was about. I first spoke with Mobeam back in October, but a simple summary of what the company is trying to do is to allow conventional POS equipment to scan bar codes directly from smartphones using light-based technology. I spoke to Mobeam COO Marcia Donner and ams Marketing Director Jerry Koontz, and while we’ll have a full write-up on the site next week I’ll say now that the demo I saw worked very well and certainly uses a unique concept.

There’s an argument to be made that by additional costs to handset makers instead of merchants Mobeam is merely shifting the digital couponing problem instead of solving it. But there’s an argument to be made for Mobeam as well, and at an NFC-centric event like MWC it was refreshing to see a company take a different approach.

Mobile Wallets: Developed Vs. Emerging Markets

I attended the star-studded seminar “Mobile Money: Navigating the Mobile Wallets Landscape,” and with a cast like the one this talk boasted, it’s no surprising the conversation was interesting.

Hill Ferguson of PayPal, Mung Ki Woo of MasterCard, Peter Hazlehurst of Google Wallet, Naveed Sultan of Citi Transaction Services, Marco Quatorze of America Movil and Emre Sayin of Turkcell convened for a broad take on where mobile wallets are now and where they can go in the future.

Ferguson stuck to the company line, stating that payments methods have to solve “real consumer problems, not use technology for technology’s sake.” He summed up PayPal’s current strategy as trying to make itself relevant in the everyday spend category and moving away from strictly online purchasing, which he admitted was “a really tough thing to do.”

During his presentation, Sultan spoke of regulation, and how despite popular belief mobile payments can actually benefit from oversight: if standards are created in a cooperative manner.

“For a vibrant ecosystem, you need a very active and effective relationship with regulators around the world to come up with a regulation that is beneficial to the ecosystem,” Sultan said. “And our view is that regulation that can protect customer interest and at the same time can spur innovation and growth. It’s quite possible.”

Quatorze and Sayin both spoke at length about using mobile to enhance financial inclusion, and having them present at the same seminar as companies such as PayPal and Google Wallet was, in my estimation, a great way to truly highlight the different challenges that players in the mWallet space face.

Speaking broadly about the industry, Woo summed up those differences nicely.

“If we’re talking about developed economies, it’s about providing a richer consumer experience and more information. In emerging markets, I think this is where we have to go back to reality. And the reality today is that most of the population in emerging markets only has access to cash,” Woo said. “But with mobile phones, I truly believe we are able to provide a much richer experience.”

Fortumo

Fortumo is another company that’s made a ton of headlines lately, raising around $10 million in funding from Intel Capital and Greycroft Partners last week. The company also announced a new contract with China Mobile: a huge get for a company that plays in the direct carrier billing space, as Fortumo does.

I had an interesting chat with Gerry Kodres, VP of Business Development at Fortumo, was essentially described his company as a provider of virtual goods to the underbanked community. In many emerging markets, Kodres said, more people have phones than have bank accounts, creating significant opportunity to provide this population with simple services and products that it may be difficult for them to obtain otherwise.

We’ll have more on my conversation with Kodres later, but he revealed that Fortumo is going to use its funding to push its expansion in the Far East and Latin American markets, where he said the most opportunity for DCB currently exists. Kodres labeled Africa as an emerging market to target farther ahead in the future as well.

Mobile Money: For Good Or For Profit?

The last seminar of the day, “Mobile Money: Enabling Mobile Money Services in Emerging Markets,” provided an interesting look at several companies aiming to bring mobile money to the unbanked.

Representatives from Ericsson mCommerce. MTN Uganda, Millicom, France Telecom and Telenor Pakistan joined Seema Desai, director of mobile money for the unbanked program at the GSMA, for the panel. Familiar topics such as interoperability, fraud prevention, consumer education and financial inclusion were branded about, and it was interesting to see the variety of answers given to the similar questions that kept popping up in each seminar.

Francois-Xavier Roger, CFO of Millicom, made one of the best points of the panel when discussion how the same mobile money strategies don’t work in every market.

“There’s a big difference in perception from consumers vis-a-vis money: consumers don’t always perceive money in the same way,” Roger pointed out. “In some countries it’s handled more by women or by men, and so it’s different. It’s a matter of position the product so it has to do with education.”

One of the biggest takeaways I got was the emphasis that bringing money to those in such markets is of course a profitable business, but can be seen as a sort of social service as well. Yes, that’s a great PR line for any of these executives to throw out there because a) who doesn’t like helping people and b) who doesn’t like making a profit. But it’s hard to argue that such companies aren’t making or planning to make a tangible difference in peoples’ lives.

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