Tanzania’s E-KYC registers a mobile user in 5-7 minutes – mobile operators increase registration throughput

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Registering the SIM cards of Africa’s mobile phone owners has been a real headache for operators. They know they have to abide by the law but the processes of registration can seem like an enormous distraction from real business. Russell Southwood talked to Nadeem Juma of E-KYC about its experience of helping mobile operators speed up the process.

I give you Sim registration as a tale of two cities: Kigali and Dar es Salaam. A week ago I was in Kigali and needed to get a new SIM card. The mobile operator’s sales outlet had a number of people waiting in clumps around the service tills and when a gap opened up, someone would push in front of the others. As indeed I was forced to do after being too polite for far too long. The whole process from end to end took me 25 minutes.

A month ago I was in Dar es Salaam and the difference could not have been more striking. I went to another major mobile operator to get a SIM and was asked to sit down at a table. The person responsible for registration did everything on a tablet, including taking a picture of me and my passport. The whole process took under seven minutes. It was only later that I discovered that the automated registration process was being delivered by AIM Group’s E-KYC, which has been working with Airtel, Vodacom and Tigo.

Registration is time-consuming for customer staff who could be concentrating on selling customers new products and services. Furthermore it almost always leads to a decrease in the number of phone subscribers: some of these losses are simply people who were only using their phones irregularly but many are people who can't be bothered to queue up and wait to register their second and third SIMs. Anything that can speed up the process has to be a blessing for both the mobile operator and the customer.

The idea for E-KYC came in the aftermath of the Westgate Mall killings in Kenya:”There was a crackdown on operators (there) because the regulator was not able to track the ownership of the phones used in the incident.” Similar pressures began to exert themselves in Tanzania.

“The first mobile operator we talked to was Vodacom…it was very excited but it explained to us that because it did not see registration as a competitive advantage, it would go ahead if we could do two things. Firstly, get regulatory approval from TCRA and secondly get all the operators on a single platform.”

Having received a letter of no objection from TCRA in 13 October, it the approached the other two major operators with a proposal to do a pilot with 50-100 agents per operator:”We would make the investment and they would help us integrate it with their systems.” The first pilot was done with Vodacom and was in Juma’s words “a instant success”. Agents started calling the operator saying that they wanted to join the scheme.

”From the initial pilot there were learnings. The user interface needed to be adapted. We also needed to add a fallback for when connectivity was down and so that it instantly registered when connectivity came back up.”

Also when they implemented it for Tigo, they were able to add a dashboard that showed in real time where registrations were being done and how many of them. This information allowed the operator to make decisions about how it deployed its customer service and marketing resources. They were also able to collect a small amount of socio-demographic information, more of which later.

So a registration process that used to take anywhere between 48 hours to 7 days to complete with the activation of the new line was now able to take between 5-7 minutes for 80% of registrations. The balance have tended to be when there has been no connectivity and these are now completed in a maximum of 24 hours.

So what did this mean in terms of registration throughput? Under the old manual system, a shop would do 40-50 registrations a day but with E-KYC they were able to do 100-150. A small agent might do 5-10 a day with the old manual system but was now able to do 20-30:”The operators were able to reduce the number of dud agents and overall get agents to do more registrations.”

Operators have to sample data to ensure accuracy and found that they were now achieving 93% accuracy. The balance had issues flowing from the lack of physical addresses, a problem common to most African countries.

Now E-KYC’s Juma is looking to turn this success in one country into a wider business success:”We’ll have an exhibition stand at AfricaCom with a full demo kit with an operating back end. Operators can come in and play with the system and pick up our learnings. It’s not a hard sell.” He wants to be able to add two more international operators by next year. Pilots and integrations take between 6-9 months.

The data collection that I mentioned earlier can be used for both validating mobile loans and for mobile marketing. AIM Group is a digital agency and has with the permission of the operator they work with used the socio-demographic data alongside aggregated user behavior. For example, based on this data, Vodacom did a marketing campaign for a Coke Studios season.

If mobile operators are to meet their new challenges as incumbents, it’s time they became a lot smarter. The E-KYC process demonstrates that it’s possible for them to up their game.

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