Changing Banking Methods to Stay the Same
Airtel executives discuss how 'airtel money', powered by Infosys WalletEdge, pushes the limits of financial inclusion in India
The artist Willem de Kooning, a master of Abstract Expressionism, once said that he had to change in order to stay the same. He was speaking about his art, but I suppose a technology innovator could be in that same frame of mind when thinking about his inventions.
Technological innovations - the really good ones, at least - help us to live our lives to the fullest but without really noticing the technological interference. Consider for a moment the convergence of personal computers and mobile telephones. To the business world and to society in general, this development was profound. People could conduct business wherever they were because of the computational power of the communications devices in their hands. Yet as people and as businesses they were essentially the same. They communicated and computed for decades before convergence. They simply were able to do so in different ways and with little notice to the major technological changes that underscored it all.
Another area of the globe is changing in order to remain the same. It's a part of the world - the emerging markets - that relies heavily on mobile phones for every aspect of life and business. Yet people in the emerging and frontier economies never experienced the two decades or so of digital convergence that the West did. So they're far more comfortable using their cellular telephones as compact, mobile computers.
Placed in the hands of hundreds of millions of people in the emerging economies, this development is even more profound than convergence was for the West. Think about it: Highly efficient, all-in-one devices ... virtually overnight. Whereas I might wait to get in front of my laptop to conduct online banking, younger people across South Asia and Latin America have known practically nothing but using their handhelds to make money transfers.
However, what might not seem obvious for many people is: Why do I need a bank to help me pay bills? What's most important for the majority of the world community is their mobile operator, not the local bank. That handheld device is their connection to the rest of the world. It's their economic lifeline. Many people in the emerging markets might never own a personal computer or have an Internet connection throughout the course of their lives. But the connections they possess on those cell phones can be just as potent. A wonderful tale of disruptive innovation is playing out as we speak. Am I saying that telecoms are the next wave of fiercely competitive financial services providers? You bet. It's all about making a connection between mobility and the market for cashless payments. If your mobile telephone is your wallet, then your telecom can be your bank.
We're helping mobile operators build and fine-tune an ecosystem that encompasses millions of customers and thousands of merchants to accept mobile payments. Not to mention enabling a telecom to wield a transaction platform that's just as sophisticated as a commercial bank. Add to that another incomparable Infosys skill set: Our ability to deliver strategic advice as to how to enter an entirely new industry - as well as how to conquer the big, established players within it.
Let's look at the situation another way: big telecoms, global banks, and the need to communicate and move money around. All of these entities and concepts have existed for at least a century. What we're doing, however, is changing the way they relate to each other so that the world essentially remains the same.