This is the third piece in the five-part series launching CGAP’s Agent Network Management Toolkit (available to download and highlights are on CGAP’s website). The toolkit is based on more than a year of research that yielded data on more than 16,000 agents in Brazil, India, and Kenya. In-depth interviews were conducted with 466 agents, agent network managers and providers, including mobile network operators, banks, MFIs and technology companies.
Today’s guest blogger is Jennifer Barassa, CEO of Top Image, a leading consumer outreach and promotion agency in Kenya. Jennifer founded Top Image in 1995. Today, it not only provides M-PESA with crucial services in training and monitoring agents, but also provides marketing, PR and below-the-line advertising services to clients in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
In the previous post in this blog series about agents, Prakash Lal from FINO in India discussed the agent business case and how difficult this is to get right. Since there are so many different factors to consider (such as training agents and managing liquidity) most branchless banking providers enlist the help of one or more Agent Network Managers (ANMs) to help the network scale quickly while retaining consistent quality services. Each branchless banking service uses ANMs for a different configuration of roles.
I own a company in Kenya called Top Image that helps Safaricom manage its network of more than 23,000 agents. We’ve been involved with M-PESA almost since its inception and are currently monitoring more than 80% of its agents. Although we support Safaricom on a number of different levels, our two most important roles are in training agents and monitoring agent operations. In the early days we were also involved in market identification and outlet auditing.
Top Image helped to design the training curriculum that is used for all M-PESA agents, and developed a simple test to determine whether prospective agents are ready to serve customers. We provide hands-on training to thousands of agents each year. We also have a team of 92 Trade Development Representatives (TDRs) that monitor M-PESA agents. Every M-PESA agent we monitor is visited at least once every two weeks. You can see a TDR monitoring an M-PESA outlet in the photo above. The TDRs use a simple checklist and assess each outlet on 10 critical items including whether the outlet has enough cash and e-float and whether the log books are in good order. Back at Top Image headquarters, we aggregate all the TDR reports and are able to escalate market findings to Safaricom. All this data makes us an important resource for Safaricom and I regularly meet with M-PESA management to provide insight on trends and to make recommendations on agent selection and training, for example.
Safaricom uses several other ANMs aside from Top Image and this is one of the reasons why M-PESA has been so successful. It uses hundreds of agent aggregators to help sign up agents and manage liquidity. It has also signed up six banks with extensive branch networks in Kenya to act as ‘superagents’ and help nearby agents manage their liquidity.
As CGAP’s new Agent Management Toolkit emphasizes, managing an agent network is complicated. There are a lot of different pieces of the puzzle to get right. ANMs play an important role in helping to manage day-to-day agent operations as well as supplying the provider with strategic information. I am grateful for the role that Top Image has played in helping M-PESA agents reach almost every village in Kenya. We’re now starting to expand internationally and support branchless banking implementations throughout Africa.
- Jennifer Barassa