Financial Inclusion Drives Rural Coverage
Last year, Airtel Malawi reached one of its main objectives to establish its presence as an internet data provider in what Managing Director (MD), Heiko Schlittke says is part of a “strategy involving continuous expansion of its distribution network in order to increase market reach across rural areas”, to the point where the network has now increased its data penetration rate by around 100 percent.
“As the general mobile penetration rate in Malawi continues to increase, there is plenty of headroom for growth and our Airtel Money platform will be the driver of this growth as we roll out a variety of financial inclusion services,” the MD says.
Given the fluctuating GDP and its affect on disposable income and economic growth, Airtel Malawi continues to face challenges affecting the entire value chain; however, Schlittke is confident that with the right level of investment and market research, the Company will come out on top with its affordable, accessible products and high quality customer care.
After re-establishing the Airtel Money brand to include a whole host of financial inclusion services - with a concerted focus on wireless payments and an availability of insurance products – the Company has created phone packages that can be used to support individual industry sectors.
“This will allow Airtel to significantly grow both its offering and provide a welcome contribution to the country’s GDP. For example, we provide tailor-made data packages for the agriculture sector which provides access to information on the sector online,” says Schlittke.
“The goal is to establish ourselves as the number one data and smartphone network in Malawi by offering more flexible bundles, affordable packages, products and services than anyone else; including a partnership with Facebook, Internet.org, which is due to go live in the next few weeks.”
This strategic partnership is one of Airtel Malawi’s key growth drivers for 2015, which promises to result in a more vertically integrated business model.
“Our products are uniquely tailored to the market in Malawi and
Internet.org will enhance our data strategy to reach as many people as possible and satisfy customer needs to the best of our ability. Backed by our expertise on the ground and country knowledge, we can give the unconnected majority the chance to connect with each other and the rest of the world,” Schlittke details.
Internet.org provides free access to basic services in Malawi such as health, employment and local information websites without data charges. “By working together, the initiative allows vendors to share tools, resources and best practices to explore solutions that tackle affordability and efficiency.
“On top of this, customers can access things such as microinsurance products like life insurance, disability insurance and other financial inclusion services, tailor made for the Malawi market through Airtel Money,” says the Managing Director.
“Combined with the support of Internet.org, we believe to be making a big step in the right direction to a deeper and broader penetration of the Malawian market through all customer segments,” Schlittke explains.
Due to uncertainties in economic stability, the main challenge for Airtel Malawi is protecting its profitabilty in the short-term.
“Our shareholders and partners know that continuous investment into Malawi is required, but to succeed in a country with high inflation that drives the local costs up, it is critical to find the right balance,” Schlittke says.
In order to maintain a leading position, the Company has to keep up with market demand and monitor the latest data trends occurring across the African continent. Schlittke says that even though 3G hasn’t been fully deployed, 4G is the next logical step that needs to quickly follow: “Even if the 3G network hasn’t been fully deployed, due to the rapid uptake of telecommunications services in Africa, we have to be flexible and lay the foundations for the deployment of 4G in order to cater for the future long-term growth of telecoms in Malawi.”
As well as investing in its infrastructure, Airtel Malawi provides its team with in-house training in the specific skills required to operate in the country and understand the telecoms market.
“Geographically, Malawi is a small country when compared to those landlocked to it. Therefore, our approach to training staff is to send them to the surrounding, larger African countries to leverage off the wider Airtel Group’s positioning in Africa and take part in knowledge-transfer,” states Schlittke.
Commitment to Malawi
Throughout Africa, Airtel is a well-known and respected contributor when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects: “Given the environment that we operate in, people look to us for worthwhile contributions via community initiatives.
“From my perspective in Malawi, CSR is an extremely important part of our strategy and positioning and I feel it is important to contribute to the social welfare of our citizens through the capabilities we have on the African continent,” emphasises the Managing Director.
Airtel is one of the most prominent players in CSR in Malawi, boasting 70 projects in the past year, spanning healthcare access, HIV prevention and education access in particular.
“We strive to make sure that people of all ages are prepared for life and have access to education and thus, improving literacy of all ages. In short, we want to make sure that everyone is better prepared for the economic challenges in Malawi, and CSR is at the heart of our approach that demonstrates this commitment,” he adds.
Complementing this with the continual investment in its own service offering will transform Airtel Malawi into more than just an IT and telecoms carrier; but an integral part of the country’s infrastructure and a driving economic force.
Schlittke concludes: “This will be the challenge in the next 24 months; to ditch the economic downturn and emerge as the most efficient, reliable and largest network in Malawi. We believe this can be achieved via the ongoing enhancement of Airtel Money and data services, allowing us to become the undisputed market leader for financial inclusion products, and we look forward to seeing our customer base increase substantially as a result.