Sean Park Portrait
Quote of The Day Title
I say profound things
Einstein

Seeing the future of finance.

I first wrote here about Ken Banks and FrontlineSMS a little over a year ago, after having seen him speak at Supernova in San Francisco where he made a tremendous impression. I remember immediately being excited by the obvious possibility of leveraging the Frontline:SMS platform to provide financial services, not only in developing countries but also in more mature markets. I put ‘try to set up meeting with Ken to discuss’ on my to do list, but it never quite made it to the top as the myriad challenges of setting up our business (and moving house) in the midst of generalized global financial calamity conspired to keep it from becoming an urgent priority. Of course (and thank goodness) the world does not wait for me and an enterprising young man, Ben Lyons, spotted the same opportunity and (much) more importantly has moved to action, teaming up with Ken and FrontlineSMS to create FrontlineSMS:credit:

FrontlineSMS:Credit aims to make every formal financial service available to the entrepreneurial poor in 160 characters or less. By meshing the functionality of FrontlineSMS with local mobile payment systems, implementing institutions will be able to provide a full range of customizable services, from savings and credit to insurance and payroll.

FrontlineSMS:credit

Launching FrontlineSMS:credit a few weeks ago, Ben wrote:

Our mission is simple: leverage the mobile space to extend access to affordable financial services to rural, disconnected and impoverished communities. To achieve this end, we are constructing a series of free and open source financial modules that will allow FrontlineSMS to communicate with mobile payment systems in real time, turning FrontlineSMS in to a microfinance management information system, a payroll center for small & medium enterprises (SMEs), a collection and distribution center for micro-insurance premiums and payouts, and a detailed center for individual credit histories and scores.

Now if this isn’t a massive opportunity, well I don’t know what is. At the risk of sounding churlish, it’s an order of magnitude more substantial and important (socially, financially, economically…) than half the me-too start-ups chasing funding and customers amongst the western digerati. Take another look at Ben’s mission statement:

… leverage the mobile space to extend access to affordable financial services to rural, disconnected and impoverished communities.

I suspect the first time you read that you thought “in Africa”, or perhaps India, or developing countries more generally. But these same under-served communities (alas) exist in every country in the world, and one could even make a case for saying that for those living in a developed economy, the relative disadvantage of not having access to basic financial services is even more damaging. It seems inevitable that the approach taken by FrontlineSMS:credit will become the primary channel through which universal access to basic financial services is delivered in any country or economy. Which leaves the politicians of many European states very little time to figure out what the hell to do with all the postal employees currently cashing cheques and taking payments for utility bills, who will soon need to find more productive work. And I’m not sure how complacent I would be as a shareholder in an incumbent retail banking operation (the top executives I doubt will lose much sleep as the timeline for this kind of transition is probably 10-15 years or so, much longer than their expected tenure…) as this bottom up, platform approach to delivering financial services has the very real potential of blowing a giant hole right in the middle of their business and revenue model.

To further whet your appetite here is an excellent 10 minute introduction to FrontlineSMS:credit by Ben at Africa Gathering in London a couple weeks ago:

Ben Lyon from Africa Gathering on Vimeo.

And on my list to “meet Ken Banks”, I’ve now added “meet Ben Lyons” and hopefully this time I’ll actually make it happen…

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Comments
  1. At 3:33 pm on 27 Oct 09 Ben Lyon said:

    Thanks for this wonderful post! We really appreciate the support and encouragement. Feel free to contact me any time for additional questions, comments, or just to chat. Thanks again!

    Cheers,
    Ben
    ben@credit.frontlinesms.com

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by emeka_okafor, Nauiokas Park. Nauiokas Park said: NBP: Seeing the future of finance http://bit.ly/2x2huQ …oh and follow @creditsms […]

  3. At 12:21 pm on 28 Oct 09 kiwanja said:

    Very much look forward to connecting! And, in the meantime, thanks for the great write-up. o/

  4. At 2:01 pm on 28 Oct 09 marcmaxson said:

    I'm itching to try it out at GlobalGiving, just as soon as you can provide a roadmap of how a dollar starts in my pocket in the US and ends up in someone else's pocket (or phone) in Uganda. We want to encourage Ben Levy and Ken Banks to push harder on end-to-end integration. My head is sore from banging my head against the wall on the missing middle man in this $$-chain.

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