Paying by phone

Posted in — Ghana Sanitation > Finance
March 18, 2021
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iDE Global WASH

Taking payments by phone reduces costs and increases collections.

Running a successful business involves assessing tradeoffs and implementing strategies to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs on each side of the equation. In the case of Sama Sama, one such tradeoff has been the transformative power of offering customer financing plans for toilet purchases versus the steep human-resource and operational costs imposed by managing such plans in the rural and geographically dispersed market of northern Ghana.

On one hand, customer financing has been a primary driver of Sama Sama’s growth over the past few years: over 75% of our customers opt for installment payment plans with periods ranging from 12 to 24 months (5,317 customers total as of March 2020). On the other hand, we dedicated enormous resources, both human and financial, to servicing these plans: we estimate that it would require more than 85,000 physical customer visits if we did all of these collections in person. Add to this the fact that our customers are often not in their homes when we arrive for monthly collections, and the need for a more efficient and cost-effective method of collecting payments becomes apparent.

The mobile solution

Leveraging the rapidly growing adoption of mobile money is one potential solution to this problem. Ghana is fast becoming a major market for mobile-money services. In 2018, Ghanaians transacted USD 36.1 billion over mobile money. That figure is expected to grow by over 32% per year to reach $204.3 billion by 2024.[1] We are experimenting with innovative incentives to help our customers save time and money by connecting with Sama Sama through mobile money.

We took a two-pronged, people-centered approach to achieve this goal. First, we trained our sales agents and call center staff to promote mobile money to our customers. This was critical because our team members are our primary “lifeline” to our customers — it is through them that we establish trust and credibility, especially in times when our model is changing.

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Sama Sama provides easy, step-by-step directions in order to help make mobile money a convenient option for Ghanian families.

Second, we launched a cashback promotion where customers who make payments via mobile money receive free mobile phone airtime back from Sama Sama. To raise awareness of the cashback campaign, our call center contacted every Sama Sama installment plan customer to alert them of the promotion, and to walk them through how to make payments via mobile money. In addition to personal calls, we conducted automated voice calls and sent text messages to customers. The personal and automated calls were a key part of the strategy because they allowed us to overcome potential literacy barriers inherent in a text-only campaign.

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Learning (and getting better doing so) as we go

Through the course of this work, we discovered an additional challenge: many Sama Sama customers live in remote areas that are out of range of any mobile networks. These customers cannot make mobile money payments and are also difficult to reach by phone or text to arrange a time and day for a collections officer to visit. We are working through this challenge by leveraging another key feature of rural Ghanaian life: most people in rural areas travel to more populated areas on market days. These areas have better network coverage, so market days end up being the best time to either meet with these customers directly, or to connect with them by phone to arrange a meeting on another day.

So far, the results of these efforts have been promising. By January 2021, Sama Sama had converted nearly 27% of collections to mobile money. As of December 2020, the total value of all mobile money transactions is approximately 7 million GHS, equivalent to 1.2 million USD. Acknowledging these efforts, the network provider MTN awarded iDE Ghana the 2020 MoMo Awards for outstanding service to mobile money customers.

With the rise of COVID-19, the ability for households to make payments without having a household visit from a Sama Sama agent became even more critical for the future of the business, and in response we have increased our mobile money promotion efforts.

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Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.