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Slimtrader targets everyday transactions with SMS and mobile web-enabled transactions

The success of M-Pesa in Kenya is really only the beginning. Its recent tie-ups with a range of retail outlets show that the next phase is all about making transactions easier for consumers using the mobile platform. Nigerian-American Femi Akinde launched Seattle-based Slimtrader to do just that: he’s enabling travel from buying air tickets at the high-end to ferry tickets at the low-end. Russell Southwood talked to Slimtrader’s Akinde about how his platform works and saves money and time for both the seller and the buyer.

Slimtrader is one of a growing number of operator-agnostic payment platforms. As Femi Akinde told us:”The user interface is both SMS and mobile web. For the cash part of the transaction, we partner with M-Pesa-like companies. Users pay at their agents and the payment is credited immediately.”

At the high-value end of transactions, the company has enabled the system with two regional airlines based in Nigeria. One of these airlines is Aero who launched their mobile web and SMS ticketing “Aero webmobile” in July 2010. The second airline will start offering this option next.

At the other end of the spectrum, it has set up the platform for a ferry service on East Africa’s Lake Victoria. The pioneering passenger ferry service EarthWise Ventures and SlimTrader’s proprietary system allows customers to search, book, and purchase the ferry tickets from their cell phones. The ferry service connects up Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

But how does it work with the ferry company in terms of ticket availability? Don’t African ferry operators just keep letting people on, often with tragic consequences? ”Earthwise Ventures’s ferry has a displacement mechanism and it won’t move if it has over a certain number of passengers. So we only enable sales based on that maximum number.”

Akinde pointed out the time saved by the consumer:”Feedback from customers is good. They no longer have to make a physical trip to buy the ticket. There’s both SMS text and mobile web versions but there’s more demand on the SMS text option. People who live in rural areas either had to come into town to buy or find a ticketing agent. They are now able to make queries of real time inventory (availability of places) and get a real-time confirmation number.”

Slimtrader is targeting mass services like transport and by doing so help to “solve inefficiencies and put money back into people’s pockets. We partners with companies who have distribution problems (in terms of payment). We’re an anywhere, anytime distribution system.”

Transaction costs for transport companies can be 5% and upwards. For the airlines, it’s a minimum of 6% and probably even higher for bus and ferry companies. Slimtrader’s proposition is that it’s possible to lower those costs using its M-enabled transaction platform:”It’s a huge transaction cost but also a huge opportunity. Currently thousands are using it but we hope to improve that so the number goes even higher. The companies see it as an extension of their brand value to customers.”

In practical terms, the platform uses five screens on the mobile web version, covering when and where you want to go and payment methods. The only difference between the mobile web and SMS versions is the visual appearance.

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