By Diego Gutierrez
This year has been filled with upheaval – disruption across industries, changes to the way we work and multiple challenges to business models globally. While 2020 was filled with rapid change, the Vodacom Group was able to successfully execute various strategic projects throughout our markets.
In responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have implemented numerous measures to ensure the safety of our employees and contractors, to keep individuals, communities, businesses and governments connected, and to harness the power of digital technologies in a collective effort to flatten the curve. Vodacom’s operations in Lesotho, Mozambique, DRC and Tanzania also introduced various changes to make it even easier to use the M-Pesa service during state lockdowns. These included increasing daily wallet limits, waiving some of the M-Pesa Peer-to-Peer (P2P) fees and merchant payments fees and reducing transaction fees.
Technology and IT
As a top priority, our teams across Africa have been working under tough conditions to maintain the quality and stability of our network. We have continued our ongoing acceleration of 4G, with an amazing example of innovation coming from balloon-powered internet solutions within the Niassa province in Mozambique through our partnership with Loon. This region has proven hard to cover with traditional network solutions due to the vast and logistically challenging terrain, together with low population density. The Loon solution will provide a 4G service that supports Data, Voice, SMS and USSD, and will also enable mobile financial services.
M-Pesa has become vital in supporting retail sectors by enabling citizens to shop digitally when the need for a low touch economy was high. Within various markets, M-Pesa customers’ P2P transfers were zero-rated to reduce the exchange of cash – considered a conduit for the virus – while also increasing wallet limits. In Mozambique, Vodacom assisted frontline agents with 25 litre water tanks to ensure that hygienic cash transactions are maintained. In Lesotho and Kenya, Vodacom also contributed funds for agents to acquire cleaning products such as hand sanitizer, soap and other protective equipment.
In Tanzania and Ghana, the M-Pesa Application Programing interface (API) was launched as part of our move to give local and international developers ample room to build new innovative use cases for mobile payment services. The open M-Pesa API offers a more convenient, faster, and efficient way to integrate payment systems onto the M-Pesa financial services platform. M-Pesa API will be launched in additional markets soon. Vodacom Group also accelerated international remittances (payments made for either personal or business purposes) in various markets, notably Tanzania, where volumes increased four times year on year. This promotes financial inclusion and facilitates cross border trade, supporting the development of small businesses in particular.
As part of our social contract, Vodacom’s ConnectU website offers subscribers access to a range of free information relating to education, jobs, health, social, safety and security. This has proven to be vital during the pandemic and lockdowns where these services have been overwhelmingly in demand. This year, we also successfully implemented Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in Tanzania and Mozambique. This software automates manual or repetitive tasks, which helps our teams by increasing the speed at which they collaborate with different business units.
Customer value management
We introduced a number of personalised offers and price optimisation initiatives to increase customer value. We were able to implement Just 4 You across all markets, which creates deals that are tailor-made for customers by analysing their usage patterns and identifying specific needs. To further assist customers, we introduced Airtime Advance. This enabled customers who were unable to top up their accounts with airtime to borrow airtime upfront and pay it back the next time they recharged. Vodacom will also soon be launching a Consumer Loan Marketplace in Mozambique, with similar plans for various markets.
Looking ahead, Vodacom will continue to fulfil its social contract objectives while supporting local governments’ digital agendas. These include promoting digital skills and accelerating support, as well as e-Health and e-Schooling initiatives. We also plan to continue promoting widespread digital adoption within businesses, which will be vital in the post-COVID world, while accelerating the rollout of rural coverage and next-generation networks.
In closing this year, I would like to thank the International Business team and all the International Business markets for their commitment and hard work during this difficult time. We are optimistic about the future and stand strong in our commitment to our customers to keep going from strength to strength as a leading pan African tech company.
(Diego Gutierrez is Vodacom Group’s Chief Officer of International Markets).