Reviews & Profiles
Security of mobile money centres: Nobody’s business
Posted Monday, November 4 2013 at 02:00
They are like banks, for all intents and purposes. And yet they are not exactly banks.
They are mostly used to transfer cash, but they take deposits, store and cash out withdrawals, just like the financial institution that holds your monthly earnings.
The same elaborate professionalism or apparent attention to certain detail, however, say the security of either the premises where transactions are carried out, or of the agents doing the transactions, or of the very cash in transaction, or even of the clients seeking a transaction, that is achieved at commercial banks, does not exactly follow with mobile-phone-based financial services.
All the same, they have served a key need we did not even know we had. And by demystifying banking and drawing it much closer to a client, to a level where having a bank account is almost as simple as having a phone sim card, they have taken root and established a firm grip on business.
That is why they are a key concern, and why security at these venues too is important. But this, it turns out, is a grey area, a sort of no-man’s land without clear lines on who exactly is responsible.
Already, cases of mobile banking agents, attacked after a day’s work, have made their fair share of rounds in the news. Agents have been attacked, murdered and robbed of cash-at-hand, especially at day-end, after banks close and an agent cannot deposit their cash in the safety of a real bank.
By May this year, at least five mobile-banking agents had lost their lives this way, in 2013 alone. One such case involved a Mr Kayita Kitanda, a Nansana resident, who after his day’s work in May, carried his Shs16m bounty home. Thugs met him at the door. They pumped his body with bullets, and made away with the loot. Police said it was investigating the case.
Another, Amon Bamwanje, of Kyanja in Kampala, was attacked at his shop, as he wound up a day of business, at 9p.m, in March this year. The thugs sprayed him and an attendant at his shop, with bullets. He died after arriving at Mulago Hospital while his attendant, a Ms Sekimuli, was injured in the leg. The thugs made off with a stack of mobile phones plus an unspecified amount of cash.
No definite premises
Today, anything: a kiosk, a table under an umbrella, a bench under a tree shade, a grocery, anything equipped with a ledger and phone, is venue-enough for mobile banking.
And here, it is important to know how many do it. Some, like Beatrice Nakitto, in Kireka, operate a business, a shop selling clothes. It is this that she complements with the mobile-phone transaction business, for the cross section of telecom platforms. It operates as long as her fabrics business is operating. “I open at about 8a.m and we close in the evening, at about 9pm when customers have stopped coming,” she says.
By then, there is no bank she can take any cash she has collected, and it could not be made clear what her mode of storing cash is, whether, like a bank, she has reinforced vaults with combine locks, where she can store her cash.
Mobile banking thus comes across as a situation where banking, as we knew it, has been simplified and brought down into the hands of anyone who can be registered as an agent. All this yet all the banking hallmarks as we know them have not dripped all the way down.
So, with a bank, a client will walk into a reasonably safe banking hall, guarded by armed, trained security operatives at the door, among other features like alarm systems and Close Circuit TV cameras. They will pull out a wad of bank notes, with a little certainty that at least, a robber may not turn up unexpectedly, making off with their stash of cash before they can even bank it.
The teller too, or even bank for that matter, has a reasonable level of certainty that their cash will not be made off with, not with the technologies used in storage and armed bullion vans for transit.
Some mobile banking venues do indeed have a reasonable amount of security detail, including armed security guards, who check visitors, spacious ‘banking-halls’ and even CCTV cameras.
However, many of these are likely to be found in an uptown setting, say the agents running centres at shopping malls like Garden City or, those found within service centres of a given Telecom Company, like the MTN service centres strewn across major towns.