Technology and Malawian businesses

 

Information and communication technology (ICT) has become a part of life and simplified business processes. Today, very few organisations as well as individuals undertake transactions manually.

Through the Internet and other ICT platforms, businesses have embraced technology in a bid to achieve efficiency in service delivery.

Courtesy of ICT, one is able to carry out banking transactions, including funds transfers and bill payments, from any place around the clock without necessarily stepping into a banking hall.

Mobile money services have also simplified money transfers between people as well as payments. For instance, with TNM Mpamba or Airtel Money, one is able to pay water bills, buy prepaid electricity tokens, pay television subscription and buy talk-time.

Big up to organisations that have embraced technology to ease transactions. Here, some of the names that quickly come to mind are National Bank of Malawi (NBM), FDH Bank, Standard Bank, Ecobank, First Merchant Bank and NBS Bank in the financial services sector.

The water boards and Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) have also cut consumers’ distances to their service points to pay bills as they can do the same through their phones using TNM Mpamba, Airtel Money, NBM’s Mo626Ice, FMB Mobile and NBS Bank’s Eazy Mobile, among others.

However, much as the ICT platforms are here with us, there is still a big room for improvement if the services are to meet customers’ expectations.

In case of commercial banks, they have placed Visa point of sale (PoS) devices in most retail outlets and other service points. But, at the end of the day, what is frustrating to many customers is that many times the Visa PoS devices are out of use either due to “network outages” or mere “human factors” where operators seem to resist use of the gadgets.

Many holders of Visa branded bank cards can bear testimony that they have been embarrassed once or more in supermarkets after their payments could not be processed because the machines are out of use. In Shoprite, for example, the till operator, in such situations, calls out the “controller” to cancel the transaction. More than once, I have had to go to the automated teller machine (ATM) to cash funds and make the payment, defeating the whole essence of single queuing.

Besides the PoS devices being out of use, some big supermarkets such as Shoprite at Chichiri Shopping Centre in Blantyre seem to have fewer PoS devices for the shop’s size. The other day we had to wait at least 10 minutes as the poor till operator hoped from one counter to the other looking for the PoS devices. I liked her courtesy, though, as she apologised for the delay and pushed the blame to commercial banks for providing few PoS devices to such a big shop.

In case of PoS devices, what beats me though is that whereas network challenges are common with Visa PoS gadgets, the same cannot be said of the pre-paid fuel PoS devices in service stations backed by Malawi Switch Centre (Malswitch). Well done Malswitch for providing a reliable service.

Two years ago, local commercial banks bridged the connectivity gap by forming the National Switch (Natswitch) which has simplified banking as customers can transact from any bank’s ATM, of course, at a fee. I still look forward to the day when Natswitch will introduce PoS devices and, slowly, we do away with the Visa machines in local transactions.

Escom is yet another culprit of poor service delivery as its pre-paid billing platform continues to give customers a headache every time they want to purchase electricity units. In recent times, many customers have had to spend nights in the dark because they could not access electricity units from the Escom platform.

To maximise revenue collection, Escom increased the number of customers on prepaid billing. However, it would appear Escom did not make a corresponding investment in the prepaid billing platform as it is always down. In fact, it is short of a miracle for one to buy electricity units at first attempt. By the way, is it not possible for Escom to introduce prepaid electricity units through scratch cards as is the case with mobile phone units?

Technology is here to stay. What is key is for the service providers to invest in continuous improvement. n

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