South African youth and doctors drive rapid growth in cellphone payments


In October last year Pocit, a cellphone payment system launched with less than 1 000 users, is growing at around 15% per week on average.

This is double their user base every three months, although since March growth has quadrupled.

The biggest driver in growth at present is on university campuses where use is exploding, but another strong growth area is in a more conservative and lucrative sector - medical payments.

David Reynders, managing director of Pocit said, "Pocit has multiple applications, and in its short life we have extended rapidly to multiple areas, including donations to political parties by cellphone and buying direct from magazine ads by cellphone.

However, nothing has worked quite like the airtime and cellphone enthusiasm on university campuses.

"Whereas those over the age of 30 often struggle with concepts or a range of concerns including safety - and cellphone payments are, so Vodacom tells us, the safest way to use money anywhere in the world - students, those in school or at university, just get it."

"They have an inherent passion and ability for mobile technology. Students are the highest users of cellphones whether calls, SMS, instant messaging, surfing and games; they see cellphones as a natural part of their lives and financial services using their cellphone is part of that."

While students form the biggest block of Pocit users, their purchases tend to remain relatively small and mostly for airtime.

The biggest spenders on Pocit are a surprisingly conservative and much older group: doctors and other medical practitioners. They uses Pocit to ensure faster payment times of medical bills.

Essentially what happens when a patient visits a doctor, the medical practitioner?s practice manager informs Healthbridge, Pocit?s sister company, which processes medical payments.

Healthbridge then uses Pocit to inform the patient of the outstanding amount and offer a secure and convenient way to pay. Doctors report that they get payment within, on average, 24 hours of the visit.

"It is significant,' Reynders says, "that doctors, a conservative group, trust Pocit to safely and reliably ensure payment. But the huge attention to Pocit by university students means that cellphone payments will be common with the new generation of professionals.'

At present most other payments by Pocit are inter-personal or to purchase airtime, aside from selected magazines that use Pocit to aid consumers to buy from ads or recommended products.

Reynders says: "The magazine initiative allows readers to buy products directly from a print advert or review from the comfort of their living rooms using nothing but their cellphones, with prompt delivery a few days later.

"It transforms the concept of "buy now? to "buy immediately? and not next time you are shopping."

By May, a range of merchants will be encouraging cellphone users to pay for purchases by pressing a button on their cellphones and immediately transferring money.

"The range for this,' Reynders said, "is vast and is already widely practised in other parts of the world, especially the huge consumer markets of south East Asia.'

Reynders said that Pocit ran a campus cellphone payment system campaign in March and April, "which saw daily sign ups grow rapidly.' The campaign ended at the end of April with a draw among students who recruit large numbers of users for one of four vehicles and a range of other prizes.

Reynders said: "A cellphone payment system like Pocit is the safest and fastest way to pay someone or to receive money, unlike cash or the internet, cellphone payments are thief proof.

"Not a single cellphone payment system has been hacked into globally. Even if the phone is stolen, the payment remains locked in cyberspace until the person gets a new phone; they unlock the money with their pin."

Pocit also allows people to store money in their cellphones using Pocit Money even if they have no bank account. It is a little like a shopping voucher and all they need is for someone to transfer money to them, so that they can pay out when they need to.

It means that when they go out they never need carry a handbag, wallet or credit card and if the phone gets stolen, the money doesn?t, it?s secure in cyberspace.

Fast Facts on cellphones and cellphone payments:

Globally 700 million consumers will shop using their cellphones by 2013, according to research.

More than 50 million people in Japan shop using their cellphones.
China has 300m mobile users compared to South Africa?s 30 million - although SA?s figure represents three quarters of our population and China?s figure represents only a third of their population.

The United Nations International Telecommunication Union says in Africa cellphone penetration has risen from one in 50 people in 2000 to a third of the population today.