Thursday, February 28, 2008

My first month at Eko, an intro

Its been almost a month (though Feb is a short month) since I joined Eko. The past few weeks have been typically hectic with Eko launching its 5000 customer target pilot in Delhi.

Before I proceed any further, I guess it would be appropriate to point out what exactly Eko is all about.

Eko ( - startup based in Delhi, India aims at extend banking facilities in these untapped/un-banked areas through the use of mobile phone as a channel; currently there are over 200 million mobile phone subscribers (GSM & CDMA). Eko is looking to ensure greater financial inclusion and increase the outreach of the banking sector as envisaged by RBI – the Indian Federal Bank through the use of Business Correspondent Model.

Eko’s unified approach to financial services will address two key challenges - ubiquity and comprehensiveness of range of financial services. Often financial services with the focus for financial inclusion have resulted in high transaction & servicing costs, inadequate collection & use of customer information, and a focus on credit based services leading to the exclusion of more needed services including Savings.

Our first initiative is “Branchless Banking” using mobile phone as a channel. For now we have initiated a pilot project at Uttam Nagar in Delhi in partnership with Centurion Bank of Punjab under the “Business Correspondent” model. Our first offering is “Abhilasha” - No Frills Savings Account to customers with only two transaction - deposits and withdrawals.

Customers are acquired through Eko Relationship Officers (EROs: local salesmen of the locality with full KYC and good banking record) while they can transact (deposits and withdrawals) at Eko Cash Points (ECPs: local retail shops). EROs are remunerated for customer acquisition while the ECPs are remunerated per transaction.

The model is such that money is deposited to the bank, through the distribution chain of ECPs, even before the savings are mobilized from the retail customers. Hence there is no exposure to the bank. Subsequently, ECPs mobilize savings from retail customers. The customers have all the protections extended just like any other depositor with a bank.

Eko issues Signature Booklets (filed for patent) to every account holder. The Signature Booklet is used to secure the transactions and ensures more than ATM like security for the transactions. Eko also issues a comic for easy communication to the customers.

Eventually, multiple value added services would be offered to the members, through the network of EROs and ECPs including more credit and savings product apart from transactional services.

We would like to invite all those interested to visit our Pilot site at Uttam Nagar in Delhi. The directions are:
1. Take the Delhi Metro Blue line, get down at the 'Uttam Nagar West' station.
2. Once there, if you are facing west (or looking opposite to the direction of 'Uttam Nagar East' station), take the first turn left immediately after the station.
3. Ask directions for Eko, T 105, 'Shukkar Bazar' Road. (Its essentially three blocks straight and three blocks right from the beginning of the road and normally you zig-zag one block straight and one block right at a time)
4. Keep watching en-route to spot shops (medicos, groceries) sporting the eko signboard.

The following is the location of the Pilot Project on Wikimapia (you have to reach somewhere near the bottom left corner):

In my next post (when I get the time for it) I will post with pictures and illustrations how the transactions are carried out. So folks, watch out this space!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Add VOIP to your mobile

Here is a list of some of the products through which you could use the mobile phone to make calls over the IP network (GPRS or WiFi) instead of GSM, in other words VoIP over mobile (though cheaper- not all are 'free'):

1. Mundu Mobile, by Geodesic.

2. Skype on Mobile, by iSkoot.

3. Yeigo.

4. Fring.

5. MobileTalk, by Packet8.

Unless its over a WiFi network or a 3G/4G GSM network, most of these solutions would suffer from slight delays due to the nature of mobile data networks today (network latency.

Though not exactly pure mobile VoIP, JAJAH is an innovative solution that would probably have better results than the ones mentioned above simply because, though you can make free calls even over mobiles, at least the last loop on your end of the call would be over the GSM network (though its a VoIP at heart).

So wish you all happy cheaper calls!

The future of commerce in India - the Mobile way? Part III

Two m-ticketing offerings from Sam Pitroda's C-Sam inc have been introduced recently:

1. Indian Railways (IRCTC Mobile)
2. Jet Airways (JetWallet)

These initiatives have the following drawbacks:

1. While not exactly m-ticketing, since tickets do not reside on the mobile and the paper tickets have to be delivered by hand (courier/ counter) or over email, these initiatives could be called m-ticket-booking, since the payment part is handled on-device.

2. Requires a phone supporting java (or windows mobile) + gprs (or supports sms- Wireless Messaging API). While a good number of mobile subscribers might have java phones, only a small proportion have gprs enabled. While most of the latest java phones support JSR 120/205 (sms), most of the earlier phones in the market do not.

3. Requires a credit card account.

Functioning within the sweet spot among the limitations above, these are good initiatives.