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MOMO with ID: An inclusion mechanism or exclusion starter pack?

Thu, 5 Aug 2021 Source: Precious Baidoo

All over the world, inventions and new technology come up almost every day. It is in that same vein that ways and means are devised to derail or gain access to these new technologies by some unscrupulous people. To whom much is given, much is expected. These technology companies have to go the extra mile and protect their “investments and gold mines” with various overlaying layers and layers of security.

The Big Announcement

On 16th March 2021, MTN Ghana delivered a mind-boggling announcement to Ghanaians. This breaking news if I should call it was pretty simple – effective 2nd April 2021, all Mobile Money customers will be required to present valid ID cards before any MoMo cash-out (withdrawal) transaction can be processed. A commentary read on www.Myjoyonline.com indicated General Manager of MobileMoney Limited, Eli Hini commenting on this said, “The enforcement of this directive apart from being a regulatory requirement will also complement efforts being taken by MTN MoMo to curb MoMo fraud in the country.

“MobileMoney Limited remains committed in the fight against MoMo fraud and will continue to implement measures that will make the service safer.”

The Effect

This announcement caused not only a buzz amongst the agents of the Mobile Network operator but also amongst the customers, FinTech Buffs and Financial Inclusion devotees. As typical of almost every novelty, some loved the idea whiles some loathed it. It did not cause a shred of losing customers due to this new directive. There are always ways to go about new conventions and this no ID no Momo withdrawal is no exception.

A counter thinking

Perhaps the question is, “is ID the only solution?” I do not see this solving the current issue of fraud. I have in mind the use of a Debit Card where a different person may use it apart from the account holder (of course at the discretion of the owner). Why should a service provider (MTN Mobile Money) restrict how people live? Are we not overreacting? If a customer decides to give their PIN to their friends or partners or relatives it should be at the owner’s risk.

Have we stopped to ask ourselves, does the enforcement of no ID no Momo work?

From what I know and have experienced with some friends, the money is sent to someone with a valid ID to withdraw for them or they transfer the cash straight to the operator’s e-wallet and they are given the money. So we can safely say that the “inconvenience” of having an ID before you can withdraw physical cash is somehow not effective.

It is believed the agents are in bed with the fraudsters. Being a MoMo agent and doubling as a fraudster might be challenging since the serial number on the valid ID card is needed to even complete the transfer in the first place. For the month of April and May, thousands of MoMo Vendors were suspended or blocked temporarily for various reasons. Chief among them is using generic serial numbers such as 1-10, using different ID card details to different registration details on the corresponding sim cards. That measure surely made most vendors take the measure seriously and go strictly by the then-new laid down procedures.

More so, they could move the money from their Mtn to a different network and cash out or use a Fintech option to perpetuate this unpleasant act. Funny enough this is the less patronized option because of the added percentage calculations of moving money to other networks by MTN.

My thoughts

Is it necessary for this ID thing? Some might argue with a two-factor authentication feature, but then that was already implemented some time back. One measure that came and never left was the allow cash-out feature. This was where before any withdrawal took place, the customer gives access before the transaction is generated from the vendor’s end, and then approves with the secret four-digit code.

With this security feature still in place, is it not a burden to even ask for a valid national ID card in addition? Seems a little burdensome in my opinion.

Anonymous transaction (i.e. proxy) is a major risk factor for abuse of mobile money. Some people say it is Over-the-counter (OTC), though OTC with proper KYC is not a major risk. However, Momo must find digital solutions to mitigate it, manual system is practically ineffective.

Since it is not a regulatory requirement, but just a major competitor’s strategy to limit fraud in its exposed system, why bother, when I (AirtelTigo Money, Zee Pay, G-Money, Vodafone Cash…etc.) can capitalize on their bureaucracy to attract some traction into their service?. Succinctly, even if this would be a regulatory requirement, I’m not sure it will come anytime soon. On the lighter note, at least, they can wait till MTN’s dominance shrinks a little to say 80%. Whiles, I think this might work, (let us face the fact: whatever the biggest powerhouse in any sector takes a bold step, the others follow happily). I will not be surprised if any of the two remaining Telcos follow suit.

On another note, I think it may be a shot in the foot from MTN since almost every vendor nowadays accepts e-cash for payments of various gifts and services. Why would I want to carry around money all the time when the person I am buying from or selling to is comfortable with taking an e-cash? This is also especially when MTN has stopped producing scratch cards for airtime and Momo is one of two ways I can recharge airtime or buy bundles?

Recommendation

Financial inclusion without regulation is as equal as driving without caution to speed limit.

Moreover, regulation can equally ban and restrict mobile money which again will not augur well for financial inclusion.

A larger number of the financially included via Mobile Money do not have a proper Identity such as the NHIS, Driver’s License, Passport.

With this said, MTN should adopt a tiered risk management approach: thus an approach to assess what value of cashout transaction requires an ID. For example, transactions less than GHS 1000 should not require an ID. This can be made better with a continuous due diligence approach with withdrawal and prevent the “Cash becoming KING”.

In conclusion, this offers a unique opportunity to dialogue over an integrated identity system for the financial sector and the country at large.

PS: The above is to help us shape the discourse around Financial Inclusion, Digital Identity, Fraud Management and KYC. So please do well to share your thoughts with me even if you disagree.

However, ponder over this – Can ID in itself can solve all fraud related to Mobile Money?

Medaase!

The writer is a member of Digital Finance Practitioners Ghana and a student of Digital Frontiers Institute.

(Caveat: These are my personal thoughts and opinion)

Columnist: Precious Baidoo