opinion


Telcos have a huge role to play in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Josh Gosliner, Global Head of Market Strategy at Juvo, stresses that the telecoms industry is more important than ever in these trying times.

As the world is overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries are trying to understand how they will navigate the crisis. For Mobile Network Operators, it’s an opportunity to serve their communities and simultaneously build NPS, trust and general goodwill.

While the term “social distancing” has, unfortunately, become the phrase of 2020, we need to remember that the important aspect is distancing ourselves physically from others. Remaining socially connected through virtual means is critical for our safety, sanity and our best attempts to keep the global economy moving. MNOs provide the critical infrastructure that enables social connectivity in a physical distancing world.

There are three key ways in which MNOs will help all the world navigate this crisis:

Keeping People Connected

MNOs will have no problem doing the obvious here, keeping the networks up and running (that’s table stakes of course). Ensuring that consumers are able to keep their accounts active and service online is a bigger challenge. This is especially the case in developing markets, where the vast majority of consumers are on prepaid plans and top-ups mostly occur through in-person, cash transactions.

We’ve already seen a host of telcos step-up to ensure that people can maintain balance in their accounts and active on their plans. Increased data limits and similar measures are important, but in some cases won’t address the core problem: how does one buy service without having to do so in person, with cash?

Digital transformation projects over the years have made it easier for people to top-up online, through applications and/or web portals. For those with bank accounts and/or credit/debit cards, this is easy and efficient. For many people in developing markets, this may not be an option. This is where airtime lending can play a significant role.

Most telcos see airtime lending as a way to earn VAS revenues from those in a pinch. But when virtually everyone is in a pinch, this channel can be used at scale to keep people connected and prepaid revenues flowing. Many operators are discussing how they can lower fees and increase loan amounts, so consumers can stay connected longer, and more affordably.

Keeping Money Moving

Just as digital payment channels enable people to top-up their accounts, mobile money has the ability to play a huge role in the crisis. When money can pass through digital means it can keep people at home, or at least at a safe 2m (6ft) distance, to complete transactions. Telcos across Africa are slashing mobile money transaction fees to move people away from cash during the crisis.

In order to help citizens get through the crisis as well as stimulate economies, many countries are starting to disburse money directly to people. In the developed world, this can be done easily with cheques, direct bank deposits, etc. For developing markets, this can prove to be more of a challenge, and in some instances result in people lining up to get their money. Obviously this is problematic when trying to maintain physical distancing. Mobile money can play a significant role as a channel for digital disbursement of money, keeping people at home while ensuring they have the money they need to get by.

In many markets, telcos have been frustrated by a lack of traction with mobile money. This crisis has the potential to alter consumer behavior that lasts into the long term. Making mobile money useful and affordable to consumers today will help them get through the crisis, but it may also make the whole ecosystem much stickier for both consumers and merchants going forward.

Maintaining Public Health

The most important thing we can do is to keep people from getting sick in the first place, and telcos have the ability to help us maintain our ‘normal’ lives while doing so through safer digital channels. Whether it’s messaging with friends, video calling your grandmother, or being able to get money from your government, mobile phones can help keep us healthy and sane.

Lastly, telcos can be the platform for messaging to masses of people with public health updates, from local or national governments that ensure people are following public safety guidelines. The ability to reach people on a wide and individual basis is critical to ensure accurate information reaches the public.

Nobody knows when exactly this crisis will end; when we can resume (somewhat) normal lives, and when we can definitely say that we have beaten COVID-19. Until we begin to stem the tide, MNOs are and will continue to deliver essential services to consumers. In addition to all the people that are doing amazing things to fight this pandemic, I hope we’ll all look back at the work that MNOs have done to help us emerge on the other side.

 

Josh oversees Juvo’s go-to-market strategy and is a specialist in consumer-facing and B2B mobile technology. Josh has led the development of Juvo’s Financial Identity as a Service (FiDaaS) platform, adding to a track record for delivering strategic, customer-centric technology to the market. Josh has a wealth of experience in product strategy development and marketing. Prior to his work at Juvo, Josh has worked within the technology sector with companies including Accenture, Glidr and Wandera.


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