For many years now, the custodians of mobile money statistics in Ghana have stopped publishing market share figures, but a very reliable source within the space has hinted TechGh24 that Vodafone now holds the second largest share of the market.
Deliberately refusing to provide the specific figures, the source said “the market share structure is now MTN, Vodafone, Zeepay and AirtelTigo.”
Vodafone’s current position, he said, could be attributed to the completely free mobile money transfers they introduced since the Covid-19 lockdown period, which they have maintained till date.
When Covid hit hard and the country went on lockdown, all mobile money operators agreed with the industry regulator, Bank of Ghana, to zero rate every first Ghc100 P2P transfer, but Vodafone took it to the next level and zero-rated all transfers from Vodafone Cash (V-Cash) to all networks.
So for more than a year now, any amount transferred from Vodafone Cash to any network is free of charge, meanwhile the other telcos still give free transfer for only the first ghc100 on-net P2P transfer.
What this means is that, for moneys transferred on the interoperability platform, Vodafone actually pays money to the Ghana Interbank Payments and Settlements System (GhIPSS) even though they do not earn anything on those transactions.
Vodafone itself has shied away from publishing how much they are sacrificing in transaction fees, and what the impact of that decision has been on their market share. But the source said the decision is paying off, except that it may not be long-lived, because Zeepay is very likely to topple Vodafone Cash soon.
Per the source’s account, AirtelTigo Money has fallen far back, after having been the weak number two for many years behind MTN. This is yet another indication that all is not well with the AirtelTigo merger and the government takeover.
MTN has since day one, 12 years ago, remained the strong number one on the mobile money market in Ghana. Tigo Cash came in 11 years ago in 2010, as a weak number two, but was quickly toppled by Airtel Money, which entered the mobile money market in 2011.
Vodafone entered the market late in the day, 2015, after poaching the two top Airtel Money executives to build V-Cash platform, modeled on Kenya’s highly successful M-Pesa.
But V-Cash trailed the others for years until Covid-19 hit, then its enhanced free P2P transfers, under the leadership of Vodafone’s first Ghanaian and female CEO, Patricia Obo-Nai, seem to have been a game changer for them.
There is however, some history to Vodafone’s late entry into the mobile money market in Ghana. Vodafone has always boasted of having the mobile money blueprint, referring to the M-Pesa, which was created by Safaricom, a Vodafone company.
MTN started mobile money in Ghana in 2009, not on the ideal M-Pesa model, but with an over-the-counter strategy, where customers could just visit a MoMo agent, give their cash to the agent and the agent will transfer it to the intended wallet.
MTN understood then, that Ghanaians were not very conversant with transferring money from their own phones, so they allowed a regime that merchants had to do it for them. It had its own challenges; very big ones, but it led to a quick adoption of the mobile money service and MTN was the big winner in terms of customer base.
For six years, MTN kept investing to make the service better and educating the public, while blueprint holder, Vodafone, quietly sat by, watched and waited to see MTN’s mistakes so they could leapfrog them at their entry.
Vodafone’s blueprint boast
At some point, a one time Vodafone Ghana CEO, Kyle Whitehall openly dismissed MTN’s strategy and boasted that Vodafone had the MoMo blueprint and when they enter the market, their strategy will be the game changer.
Many years passed and MTN forged ahead as a runaway market leader with an overwhelmingly huge market share. At some point MTN held a whopping 94% of the market, after Airtel and Tigo had entered the market.
Now the over-the-counter strategy has been faded out, and the industry now insists on customers loading their wallets at the merchant points, and doing their own transfers. But because MTN did not shy away from the over-the-counter strategy with all its bottlenecks years ago, now MTN is more than in a comfortable lead, while every player, including blueprint holder, Vodafone, are playing catch up.
Recently, when MTN was declared a significant market power (SMP), government stated that MTN holds more than 75 percent mobile money market share. So the other players pushed hard for the SMP rules to be targeted mainly at curtailing MTN’s mobile money growth, but that does not seem to have happened yet.
It is worthy of note that for six years, MTN invested in mobile money without any returns. Now Vodafone has gone more than one year with their free transfer offer, which is paying off already. It however remains to be seen how long Vodafone would be willing and able to sustain the offer and what the ultimate outcome would be.
Meanwhile, the leading non-traditional MoMo service provider, Zeepay, has already toppled a traditional player, AirtelTigo and is heading for Vodafone. GMoney from GCB Bank, and YUP from Société Générale are also holding their own in the market. But market leader MTN would probably remain untouchable forever, and they players are aware of this.