Pilot in Indonesia Will Be Popular, But BlackBerry Must Consider Next Step
Last week the commercial pilot of BlackBerry's BBM Money launched in Indonesia. The service allows BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) users to make person-to-person payments in a similar way to the M-Pesa service in Kenya. Users can open BBM, select a BBM contact and transfer money to them in real time.
I hadn't initially expected BlackBerry to enter mobile payments. Handset manufacturers are not known to deploy their own independent mobile payment services. Only Nokia has tried, and its Nokia Money service lasted for about two years before closing down. (Although it's worth pointing out that this was more a result of Nokia's overall changing strategy in mobile rather than a failure of the service.)
Today handset manufacturers that are working in mobile payments are usually collaborating with other companies to provide the rest of the hardware for transactions. Most recent examples include Samsung, which worked with Visa to enable payments on Galaxy S III models at the London Olympics 2012.
Closer examination reveals that BlackBerry has actually taken a similar approach for BBM Money. The service stems from collaboration between PermataBank in Indonesia and UK technology company Monitise. BBM is essentially being used as a portal to facilitate digital payment transactions.
BBM Money could do quite well in Indonesia, but I think there are a couple of reasons why BlackBerry needs to treat any success with caution. Firstly, BlackBerry enjoys immense popularity in Indonesia, accounting for more than half the smartphone market. So customer response is not likely to be representative of the global market.
Secondly, mobile payment services are generally quite popular in emerging markets because of a lack of banking infrastructure. Users in Indonesia will be more willing — or have more need — to try such services.
Looking beyond Indonesia, I'm not sure whether BBM Money in its current form would fare as well in other countries. Services like mobile payments really need scale to lift off, but BBM Money is restricted to BlackBerry handsets. Indonesia may be a booming market for BlackBerry, but this isn't the case in Europe and the US, for example.
From my own experience of using BBM to message friends and relatives in different countries, I think the next step for BBM Money is to focus on cross-border mobile payment services. Of course, international mobile payments face considerable legal and regulatory challenges. Perhaps a partnership with an international payments company like Western Union would work.
Just as BBM provided a great new messaging application exclusive to BlackBerry users across the globe, I think BBM Money has the potential to also offer a truly innovative service.