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GK's McNaughton to head mobile money roll-out

Published:Friday | February 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM
File Don Wehby, group chief executive officer of GraceKennedy Limited
File Michael McNaughton, vice president for product development at GraceKennedy Money Services.

GraceKennedy Limited is in the process of registering a brand and logos for a new mobile money product that Group CEO Don Wehby now says will be rolled out later this year, initially in Jamaica and later in other English-speaking Caribbean markets.

The conglomerate, through subsidiary GraceKennedy Payment Services Limited, has already got the green light for a pilot from Jamaica's central bank, which regulates the mobile banking and e-payment sphere, but will need sign off in other markets. Those discussions continue.

"We are in the final stages of registering the brand and logos, and intend to make the necessary announcements at our launch in the second half of 2015," Wehby said, when asked the name of the product.

Another GraceKennedy subsidiary, First Global Bank, is the 'custodian bank' for the service, whose offerings will include the loading of remittances, peer-to-peer transfers, credit top-ups, and bill payments, said Wehby. He declined, however, to disclose the identity of the technology partner.

"The technology partner is a global player in payments and mobile services. However, due to confidentiality reasons, we are unable to disclose at this time," he said.

Wehby said the mobile money operation would fall under GraceKennedy Money Services and that Michael McNaughton, the vice-president for business development, has been tapped as project lead for the roll-out and will be answerable for its success.

While the targeted investment in the project was not disclosed, Wehby said the bulk of the spend will be in the areas of technology and customer education.

"Our discussions with regulators and prospective customers have indicated that convenience and security are the critical pillars of success, and this has guided the initiative," he told the Financial Gleaner.

Initially, GK's mobile money initiative will target the Caribbean in the short to medium term. Africa is not currently on its radar but Wehby said it's a future possibility. The food and financial services conglomerate's worldwide holdings include assets and markets in the Caribbean, North America, Europe and Africa.

"As you know, we now have incorporated GraceKennedy Ghana Limited, and if the opportunity arises in the future then we will consider it, subject to due diligence," the group boss said.

Discussions under way

Closer to home, the GK team is already assessing the readiness of regional markets.

"Discussions have begun with regulators and other stakeholders to identify the most successful business model for those jurisdictions," said Wehby.

For the Jamaican pilot, he said phase one involved regression and technology assessment, while phase two will be the commercial deployment of the mobile money solution.

"The knowledge acquired will allow us to enter other Caribbean markets in the not-too-distant

future," he told the Financial Gleaner.

Mobile money is a nascent market in Jamaica, in which just one entity, Jamaica Co-operative Credit Union League, working with technology partner Mozido Jamaica, has deployed a commercial product - a mobile wallet now known as Conec.

JCUES upgrade

Conec is an upgrade from e-payment service JCUES. It allows users to receive and send cash of up to $150,000 to other registered users, top up phone credit, transfer money between credit union accounts, pay selected utility bills and check account balances.

The state-owned Development Bank of Jamaica is also testing a mobile banking service in partnership with National Commercial Bank Jamaica and Transcel Limited, under a $250-million project that was designed in 2012 and launched in February 2013, and is ongoing.

The state bank said in early February that it has made "significant progress" on the integration of Transcel's technology with NCB's systems "and, by extension, the national ABM/POS network". NCB is Jamaica's largest banking network. It fulfils the role as "custodian financial institution" to ensure compliance with mobile banking rules as laid out by the Bank of Jamaica, DBJ said.

Preliminary testing of the Transcel mobile phone application with several microfinance customers and employees was completed in January 2015, but other tests are pending prior to the launch of the service, the development bank said.

Wehby says GraceKennedy has been exploring potentials in mobile money since 2010, when a GK team visited Kenya, the Philippines, Malaysia and Canada to examine their deployments - models they planned to adopt.