Since the breakthrough of the first mobile money platform in Liberia about a decade ago by one of the country’s leading mobile telecommunications operators, Lonestar Cell MTN, new technologies and innovative business models such as agent banking (rather than branch-centered banking) have led to the creation of a mass market for affordable, accessible, and sustainable financial services for low-income people, small-scale entrepreneurs, and people in rural areas.
The Mobile Money service has grown from a money transfer platform to a “wallet” platform that allows users to pay utility bills, school fees, as well as purchase goods and services at shops, offices, restaurants and other business centers around the country.
The December 2016 Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) statistics puts mobile money to a total subscriber base of over 774,750 users nationwide.
Lonestar Cell MTN Mobile Money Incorporated has provided jobs for over 3,000 agents, and out of this number, about 2,423 were considered as active participants [agents] in the mobile money ecosystem.
In an interview with the Daily Observer last week, beneficiaries (agents) of the mobile money expressed gratitude to the management of Lonestar Cell MTN which, according to them had provided massive employment that has also transformed and empowered them financially to shoulder the financial burden of their families and relatives.
Money changer to game changer
Mr. Jallah Acquoilakpa, the manager of the Lola Business Center in the Barnesville community, said that since his recruitment in 2011 by Lonestar Cell MTN as its agent, it has enable him send his children to school as well as further his own college education.
Acquoilakpa recounted that before his recruitment he served as a local money exchanger. Now, “the mobile money service is a game-changer for me and my family.”
According to him, when the service was introduced, there were challenges because people by then were new to mobile money transactions, which took him time to be able to convince his customers that the service was more convenient way to convey and access money.
Because of that he said, Lonestar Cell MTN was compelled to create more awareness to inform the people about the importance of mobile money platform and “at least it is helping to reduce the crowdedness of commercial banks.”
“Even without a bank account people can still receive and send money to other people anywhere in the country without bank involvement,” he said.
Acquoilakpa disclosed that since his recruitment into the mobile money business, he has made significant improvement in his life and that of his business. “Mobile Money helped me to own a house, pay my university school fees, including my children. So, I can say mobile money is a good platform that all Liberians need to take very seriously… it is convenient, easy.”
He meanwhile used the occasion to commend Lonestar Cell MTN for affording Liberians opportunity to engage in such a business, as well as provide jobs and to make banking easier for them.
Avenue for self-employment
Another Lonestar Cell MTN mobile money agent, Francis Ilide, who runs a drug store at the Gardnersville Supermarket community, explained that within the seven years of his recruitment, Mobile Money has tremendously improved his life and business.
Mr. Ilide said, there are many benefits associated with the service once you are a Mobile Money Agent.
“Mobile Money profit creates an avenue for Liberians to get self-employment,” he said. According to him, through his mobile money business he managed to purchase a plot land and the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) is currently renting from him.
Mr. Ilide said the platform also helped him to pay for his college graduation fees and admitted that the mobile money platform is very cool, reliable and convenient for making payments.
For Mrs. Babu Kabba Konneh, who is the chief executive officer of SP Business Center on the Old Road, she praised Lonestar Cell MTN for bringing to Liberia such an innovative service that is making “our country a cashless economy.”
Mrs. Konneh said since she started in September of 2011, the Mobile Money platform has been good to her. “Through Mobile Money, I have established two businesses and am also paying my children school fees.”
At the same time, another vendor of the Lonestar Cell MTN Mobile Money, Curtis Wilson, general manager of Favor Marketing Incorporated, said they are doing what the banks have not yet done, which is to turn to informal or unbanked customers.
“Our goal is to bring money from the informal sector into the formal sector,” Mr. Wilson said. Favor Marketing Incorporated is one of the biggest Mobile Money agents in Liberia.
For his part, Kelvin Sambola, president of the National Association of Foreign Exchange Bureaus of Liberia and one of the first agents of Lonestar Cell MTN, also expressed similar success story and called on youths to take advantage of opportunities provided by the Mobile Money service, which “is changing lives.”