What If, We Could do Payments Through Our Mobile Balance In Bangladesh?4 min read

Imagine, you are sitting on a chair and you don’t have to constantly push that despicable wallet towards the right of your back in order to sit comfortably. The life of every man would get so much easier, right? But how would you carry cash then? Here is where it is going to get outrageous. What if you could do without carrying any cash at all? Yes, we could have a complete cashless society in Bangladesh if the telecom operators in our country facilitated payments using mobile balance. Before exploring the topic any further it must be opined that it has its fair share of pros and cons.

Pros first. A cashless society would essentially mean, no transactions goes unchecked. This means, the payment you take from your client for the logo you made will not go untaxed. The whole shadow economy of gigs will cease to exist. According to a research, the US government can make 100 billion dollars in excess by plucking the fruits of a cashless society. As we have seen in previous industrial revolutions, every blessing bring a new curse along with it.

As for cons, a cashless society would give complete financial control of our lives to the government. Moreover, it is completely dependent on technology. It implies, they whole system could fail or be hacked.

For instance, you are late to wake up for office on the eve of a crucial meeting. You take an on demand ride sharing service. As the driver reaches his destination and clicks on ‘complete ride’; the app collapses. It has happened to every user countless times. When this happens, we usually pay the estimated fair. This seldom happens due to an app glitch. More often than not, it is caused by internet connectivity from the telecom operator’s side. Just to remind you, you are living in a cashless society and you cannot pay the operator without internet. What happens now? A lucky free ride I believe. Nevertheless, thank God! Pathao came to rescue through Pathao Pay!

Now let’s delve in what we call the ‘fin-tech’ industry. Bkash is running a monopoly now closely followed by Dutch Bangla Bank Ltd.’s Rocket. Peer to peer money transfer, e-commerce transactions, and digital wallet: Bkash is leading in all sectors. But what if Grameenphone, Banglalink and Robi came up with their own financial technology products? Would this inspirational story of Bkash ever exist? Maybe, it would, but not nearly in the scale it is in today.

Telecommunication companies are not telecommunication companies anymore. Because the telco industry as a whole has passed its growth phase a while back. ARPU (average revenue per unit) is not the prime indicator anymore. AMbPU (Average Megabyte per Unit) is considered a more important indicator. The industry is at its matured stage and well poised for a steep decline. Owing to the fact, telecom companies have transformed themselves into digital warriors of tomorrow, it would have been much easier for them to perforate their massive customer bases with financial products. A voyage of telco giants into the fin-tech landscape would have transcended global standards. The amount of users these telco companies have is enormous! Just think once, how the situation would look like if they could compete against each other in this fin-tech sector as well.

Now let’s face the fact, telecom industry is in its declining stage, even my grandmother calls me on Viber nowadays. This scenario explains the paradigm shift pretty well. As a result, ARPU (Average Revenue per User) will be totally depended on the AMbPU in no time. But, if we the user could use our mobile balance to purchase things from national or international market, then just imagine how the market for telecom industry would look like? This would definitely prove itself as the life support for the soon to be dying telecom industry.

Had our 1345 million or so mobile phone subscribers been penetrated with financial products by telecom companies, I am free from doubt that Bangladesh would have not just been a cashless society, but also a leader in global fin-tech industry.

As users, we could have travelled lighter. Our financial management would have been much easier. Internet banking could have evolved at an ‘unhesitating’ rate. Telco companies would have been at the forefront of financial services while institutions like banks and NBFIs would entertain the institutional side of the business. At the same time, we could carry more cash at once, making our spending habits more lavish. Then again, our apps would crash at crucial moments adding to the list of most memorable miserable moments.

In spite of all the roses, it wouldn’t have been a bed of roses. Such an era defining paradigm shift would be further boosted by public policies like calling back paper currencies. We have to grasp the fact that even today almost half the mobile users still do not use internet. Aggressive monetary policies to push usage of financial technology would marginalize a significant portion of the population. But fear not! It is highly unlikely of the policy makers to ever allow the telco titans to venture into financial territories, because, it would grant unbridled market power to what it is an already oligopolistic digital economy.

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