Mobitel’s mCash has been floating around for some time now, mostly popping up in conversations regarding Google Wallet and the like. We’re generally skeptic of such services, but mCash has gathered enough momentum – particularly among vendors – to deserve a closer look.
What is mCash, really?
mCash is a digital wallet. That’s the easiest way to put it. You pay Mobitel a certain amount of money (for starter accounts, it’s upto ten thousands bucks). Then you use your mobile phone to buy stuff (or as an ATM). That’s it in a nutshell.
Let’s dive a step deeper. mCash makes liberal use of PIN numbers. When you initiate a transaction, you’ll have to enter your PIN. Upon which goods/services or the actual money is handed over to you. That’s the theory. Things like checking your account balance, sending money to a friend and also paying your utility bills are done by dialing #111# and then working your way through the prompts.
Yes, Mobitel’s acting as a bank here. Real physical money is converted to digital rupees in a service that is synced to your phone number. Thankfully, this whole setup has the Central Bank’s approval and has no service charges whatsoever.
How good is it?
Still doubtful. mCash, essentially, uses your phone as a debit card. With a few extra features like the utility bills and so on, but the core functionality is the same. The fundamental question is: in a general shopping scenario, what can it do that a VISA debit card can’t already do? Very little. Plus, one has to deal with dead batteries, mediocre phones and such: instead of streamlining the process of shopping, the current system simply adds another layer of complexity to the swipe, sign and forget model we’ve become used to.
But we see extensive uses for mCash. Not in shopping: in bill-related processes. The #111# service lets you pay your utility bills and direct payments to institutions such as government departments, banks, insurance, finance and leasing companies and some educational service providers.
THAT is mCash’s true strength: presenting an easily accessible, digital interface to all these distributed, essential systems. If I had a choice between walking to a government department and waiting for God knows how long to pay a couple of thousand bucks or buying a Mobitel SIM and do all that without moving from my chair, well, I’d pick Mobitel anyday.
It all comes down to convenience.
For shopping, a debit or credit card is still more convenient – more so from an urban perspective owning a bank account. There’s none of the phone-related issues you may end up dealing with. It doesn’t matter if Bombay Sweet supports mCash. What matters is how easy it is to use compared to existing solutions.
When it comes to the more complex functionality of mCash, we find mCash quite a viable solution. Mobitel is genuinely making inroads into a successful digital wallet – time will tell whether they succeed.