Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Remittances to fund mobile phones and minutes - why not PCs?

Posted by Karen Coppock

NPR had a story on electronic money transfer service, Mukuru, this afternoon. Mukuru allows the immigrant community to send money - in the form of gas vouchers and mobile phone minutes - to their relatives back home in Zimbabwe.

The Mukuru business model is not new. Several firms, including MamaMikes of Kenya and Thamel.com of Nepal, enable immigrants to direct their money transfers to specific purchases or purposes. This phenomena is commonly referred to as the "productive use of remittances," which is somewhat of a misnomer as the companies offer gifts such as roses, candy and televisions as options.

In all three cases - Mukuru, MamaMikes and Thamel.com - the company accepts the money transfer request online, hence taking advantage of the technically savvy immigrant population. The family member back home then receives a text message notifying them that they have a gift or voucher waiting for pick-up. Thamel.com adds an extra touch of delivering the gift and then sending the immigrant a picture, or video, of the family member with their new gift or voucher in hand.

Mobile phone minutes are gift options on all three services, which is logical given that mobile phone minutes are an alternative currency in many poor countries. Thamel.com and MamaMikes also offer many brand-name mobile handsets as gift choices. None of the three firms have brand-name PCs as gift options - perhaps a missed opportunity for computer companies interested in reaching the next billion consumers in emerging markets.

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