This is the beginning of the new era of modern agency banking in Africa. For decades, banks have struggled on how to serve poorly educated potential customers, through text-based technology. The banks have struggled because the cost of serving these customers is high. This explains why you may not find a single bank branch in some local government areas in Nigeria, while if you visit NNPC or the National Assembly, you will see many banks in their facilities. Simply, the banks are following the money. You will not make a lot of money serving rural communities in Nigeria with today’s banking solutions.
However, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) does not want the banks to forget the Nigerian citizens living in rural areas. Also, the banks do understand that these citizens are potential customers, if not currently but in the near future. Some banks like Diamond Bank have deepened their agency banking products. However, most of the solutions are still text-based. Nigeria needs to deliver solutions in ways the customers, who can neither read nor write, can understand. We like to talk in Nigeria. That means voice is the path to deliver the solution. I have already noted that the shift in computing to voice provides that paradigm.
There are many opportunities in the voice assistance space in Africa. In short, if you make it, you will get customers even in the enterprise market. The following are simple examples:
- Banks working on agency banking will adopt the technology to reach customers who are largely not literate enough
- Insurance firms will also use it to build new solutions, based on voice
- Many government services will move from text to voice, solving the illiteracy barrier
- Africa’s leading ecommerce companies like Jumia and Konga will come on board. Of course, you must make sure such a technology works with our accents
There is a shift in computing at the consumer level, where people can talk to their phones and the phones get things done. The opportunity will be huge. Now is the time to think of Africa’s voice operating system.
Google Debuts Solution
According to TechCrunch, Google has a product named Tez that can allow customers to make payments via audio. Period, you talk and the transaction goes through. Where are they testing it? India. It has the same demographics in terms of literacy rate as most parts of Africa.
After several weeks of speculation and leaked details, today Google officially unveiled its first big foray into mobile payments in Asia. The Android and search giant has launched Tez, a free mobile wallet in India that will let users link up their phones to their bank accounts to pay for goods securely in physical stores and online, and for person-to-person money transfers with a new twist: Audio QR, which uses ultrasonic sounds to let you exchange money, bypassing any need for NFC.
“Send money home to your family, split a dinner bill with friends, or pay the neighbourhood chaiwala. Make all payments big or small, directly from your bank account with Tez, Google’s new digital payment app for India,” Google notes in its information portal about the new app.
Tez is Google’s play to replace cash transactions and become a more central part of how people pay for things, using their mobile to do so. But it’s also a chance for the company to push out some new technologies — like audio QR (AQR), which lets users transfer money by letting their phones speak to each other with sounds — to see how it can make that process more frictionless, and therefore more attractive to use than cash itself. More on AQR below.
Tez is launching today on iOS and Android in the country and will see Google linking up with several major banks in the country by way of UPI (Unified Payments Interface) — a payment standard and system backed by the government in its push to bring more integrated banking services into a very fragmented market. There will also be phones coming to the market from Lava, Micromax, Nokia and Panasonic with Tez preloaded, the company said.
What Happens Next
I expect Google to make available API and SDK that will help people integrate Tez in their solutions in coming months. They will also scale beyond India to Africa and Latin America. Also, over time, Google will make this product part of Home Assistant, its voice assistance technology. The fact remains that developing regions like India and Africa will find the emerging voice operating system very exciting because you do not have to worry if the person can read or write. The promise of moving computing to voice will unlock more value in Africa.
Voice computing will be a total liberalization of computing where anyone that can talk can compute. Indeed, “Audio QR is poor man’s NFC and it’s better and awesome”, says Aniruddh Dodiya , Founder of Grocya.
I expect African developers and entrepreneurs to position themselves for this emerging opportunity. They have to find ways to build on top of Tez which will be easier since Google has provided the core elements. Yet, we also have to find ways to manage the accents and our spoken English flavor. There are many opportunities in this area and people have to get excited and begin to explore. I expect banks to begin to explore solutions in this space. Agency banking in Africa and indeed Nigeria will be anchored by voice computing. Google Tez can make that moment happen.
Imagine the possibilities. This comment from referred TechCrunch link above sums it up.
Audio is great because in populations with high illiteracy, voice based transactions can allow people to be more productive. The records of transactions should be easily recoverable by the same users. If people can use pictures in addition to their voice, they can navigate the digital transaction landscape and become active participants. For example, a farmer and a consumer can enter into a verbal agreement to sell a specific kind of produce as part of ecommerce. Google appears to be on to something big.