Building the future of Africa on USSD — Yvonne Mumbua Nindi, Product Expert at Africa’s Talking

Building the future of Africa on USSD — Yvonne Mumbua Nindi, Product Expert at Africa’s Talking

This week, we had a chat with Yvonne Mumbua of Africa’s Talking about the work she does and what she thinks the future of African transactions looks like.

Hi Yvonne, thank you for doing this. Can you share a bit about yourself and the kind of work you do at Africa’s Talking?
My name is Yvonne Mumbua, I’ve been at Africa’s Talking for the past four (4) years. I started as a Support Engineer, supporting all the products that Africa’s Talking has built —  USSD, SMS, Voice, Airtime, and Payments. Then I specialised in USSD and SMS and eventually focused on just USSD as a Product Expert.

As a Product Expert, I have a 360-degree view of product operations both on the technical and business side.

What are your thoughts on USSD as a technology?
When I hear people say USSD is outdated technology, it’s typically because it works on feature phones. But I have a smartphone, and I use USSD every day.

With my bank, for instance, I have the mobile app, but I still prefer to use USSD because of the user experience. I need the internet to use my bank’s mobile app but I don’t need the internet to access the same services via USSD.
USSD always gets the job done. Anytime I compare my experience on USSD and on mobile apps, USSD always wins. It’s simple and functional.

You work with a lot of USSD clients, What are the most interesting use cases you have seen?There are really interesting USSD applications out here. I’d start with the fintech space where almost every bank has a USSD code for transactions today. The big ones even use it to register clients and customers. They also use USSD to share OTPs as a backup to their SMS service.

When it comes to E-commerce, companies utilise USSD in their ordering processes. Some platforms enable their customers to place orders, make payments and track their orders using USSD. Loyalty schemes are also quite popular. Customers are able to acquire loyalty points and redeem them via USSD.

Truly, the list goes on and on. County government services can also be accessed via USSD. For instance, people pay for parking spaces via USSD. Utilities such as water and electricity can be paid for using USSD. Clean energy solutions are sold via USSD. Companies also use USSD to run surveys and collect feedback from customers. Passengers order cabs and other means of transport via USSD. In the agriculture sector, some companies sell fertiliser via USSD. There are even children in schools across Africa accessing learning material through USSD.

The applications are really as endless as they are dynamic.

Read more: Unusual industries that have been powered by USSD

In your experience do you think African Businesses are maximising USSD?
Pre-COVID, my answer would have been no. However, post-COVID, most people have had to re-think their digital and mobile communication strategies. Businesses are realising that USSD is a great channel to reach the masses, as quite a number of them are now adopting its usage - maybe not fully but they’re on their way there.

Pre-COVID, people would gather physically for annual general meetings (AGMs), church services, etc. These days though, people are using a combination of USSD (for registration) and webinars to power events. Those who didn’t previously see the need for USSD are now left with little option but to use it since the world has accelerated in the digital and mobile direction.

What type of businesses are you seeing adopting USSD? SMEs or big businesses?
I would say all sorts of businesses can indeed adopt USSD. We’ve all been affected by the pandemic and everyone sees the need to have digital and mobile engagement strategies for their products and services. So, we’re seeing a wide range of adopters, from software developers to SMEs to big businesses; everyone is adopting USSD.

For businesses that have not adopted USSD or are struggling to adopt USSD, what do you think they can do better, what will be your advice for them?
The first step is to reach out to someone who is knowledgeable about USSD. Most people may be familiar with USSD, but they may not see how it ties into their business which is OK. We realise this when selling our products at Africa’s Talking. Seeing that USSD applications and use cases are quite dynamic in nature, we advise businesses based on their needs as well as the type of relationship they would like to build with their customers.

Read more: How to create your own USSD code

You mentioned that USSD will not be outdated but the demographics can change. What is the future of USSD in Africa?
The reality is that we will not always be the same. We will have people who can afford smartphones and those that can’t. There are those that prefer feature phones to smartphones generally or for specific tasks. We have people that don’t like buying data bundles (myself included). There are these disparities that exist, and we will always have solutions tailor-made for specific people.

USSD will always have its demographic to serve — think of an individual in the village who accesses mobile money via USSD. That’s how relevant USSD is. Even for businesses with solid digital strategies, USSD is a go-to channel because of its extensive coverage. If you want to ensure anyone and everyone has seamless access to your services, think USSD.