Welcome to Zambia!
My first ten days at Mobile Transactions Zambia Limited (MTZL) have been more exciting and inspiring than I had imagined. Work began early. I drove straight from the airport to the office, where I was driven off to visit an agent (one of the several physical locations across Zambia where the end-users of MTZL’s services can deposit or collect cash) in the heart of Lusaka, the capital city, and to review training of future agents. This anecdote is illustrative of the energy and motivation that flows through the 25+ employees of the company at the office. A motley crew from at least seven countries with experiences across financial services and technology industries, and in implementation of development projects through rural Zambia, mans the office. Their customer-centric focus, improvement through self-criticism, and relentless focus on building scale all flow from their dedication to build a game-changing enterprise.
If the past is any indicator, the odds are stacked in favor of MTZL. In the span of just three years since 2009, when it began operations, MTZL has grown to become the largest private payment service provider in Zambia. The whirr of transactions routed through MTZL’s systems has grown into a roar as the unbanked and poor use its services to transfer money to their loved ones, borrow and repay microloans, receive aid in cash and kind, get paid for sale of their agricultural produce, and receive salaries. Businesses, non-profits, international organizations, and governments have all benefitted from the secure, reliable, cheap, and simple interface with MTZL’s system and the wide reach of its agent network across the breadth of Zambia.
The future of the company will be driven by its ability to graduate into a mature organization: one which can be scaled on the back of a robust information system backbone and with managerial capacity to match its blistering growth, challenges which the senior leadership knows all too well. Accion’s Frontier Investment Group (FIG) believes not only that this this achievable, but doing so will widen financial inclusion for several million financially underserved Zambians, and, with future expansion, other Africans. Consequently, FIG invested US $3.2 million, jointly with the Omidyar Network, in February 2012. FIG also offers strategic guidance to MTZL through participation in the board of MTZL’s parent, for instance in development of performance metrics for the business based on FIG’s experience with its other portfolio companies.
That is where I step in to the picture. My task is to understand the business drivers and aspirations of the company, and suggest key performance indicators (KPIs) that the company should measure itself against. As an independent observer, I hope to bring a fresh perspective to the thought process while applying my skills and professional experience in international development and investment management. Personally, the role is a great learning opportunity as I am new to the context (my first time in sub-Saharan Africa) and the nature of business (never worked for a startup before). I also plan to travel across this part of the world and experience it firsthand. But that will have to wait as it is time to get back to work.