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Regulations aren’t the only way to protect customers. They may not even be the best way.

  • By Timothy Roberts
  • Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Now in its second decade of growth and processing over 1.3 billion dollars a day, mobile money is a maturing and highly competitive industry. This puts regulators at the regional, national and international level in a challenging position. They must develop regulatory platforms that support the interoperable systems on which an increasing number of people depend, while also preventing sophisticated digital fraud and money laundering operations. 

It comes down to this: how can regulators help keep users safe inside the global remittance system, and keep nefarious actors locked out of itall while encouraging innovation and competition? 

The Know Your Customer (KYC) protocol is a good example of this high-pressure push-and-pull. KYC regulations were originally drafted in the baroque era of institutional banking, when the process of identifying clients was predicated largely on face-to-face interactions. Many of today’s regulators have modernized this protocol to allow for electronic KYC methods. Where yesterday’s bank client once stood in front of a teller waiting to be recognized, for example, mobile money users might simply scan a fingerprint. These updates allow for a frictionless customer experience, but they also introduce new opportunities for bad actors intent on exploiting the system. 

While regulators continue to wrestle with this fine balance between innovation and risk, a potential solution has emerged from a different organization altogether: the GSMA.


The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. They aren’t regulators, and their suggested best practices are just that: suggestions, not binding legislation. Rather than weaken their stance, this distinction affords the GSMA even more credibility, in my opinion. Everyone has to follow regulations, after all. They’re the basic table stakes. They’re designed for enforcement. The GSMA’s suggestions, on the other hand, do something else. They rise above the table stakes. They’re designed for inspirationthat’s their strength. 

The GSMA Mobile Money Certification, which launched last year, is their latest and most distinguished vehicle for inspiring the world’s best mobile money operators to reach for a new threshold of trust, transparency and consumer protection. 


Mobile operators vying for certification are independently assessed against almost 300 detailed and specific criteria, each one indexed to the highest industry standards in the world. Operators must receive an absolute perfect score in order to be granted certification. Some criteria align with regulatory expectations, but most are much more demanding. Each falls into one of eight important principles: 

  • Safeguard customer funds against risk of loss
  • Combat money laundering, terrorist financing and fraud
  • Manage staff, agents, and third parties correctly
  • Operate the service well and reliably
  • Ensure the security of the systems supporting the service
  • Communicate fees, T&Cs and information transparently to customers
  • Effectively address customer service requests and complaints
  • Protect customers’ personal data.


To date, eleven mobile money operators have achieved certification, representing more than 148 million customers. One of the first was Tigo Tanzania, whose Tigo Pesa app runs on Telepin’s mobile money platform

Tigo’s journey began in 2014, when it launched Tigo Pesa, the first mobile money service in Africa. A year later, Tigo chose to replace their incumbent mobile money services provider. They wanted a partner with a more stable platform from which to launch their next phase of growth. Facing the prospect of migrating 13 million existing customer accounts, they knew they had to choose their next provider carefully. Flexibility would matter; they needed someone able to co-develop novel APIs to optimize the experience for the 100 or so billers and the 20 banks that were already active in Tigo’s system. Even more importantly, they needed a partner who could guarantee security at scale. They planned to grow fast, and as they did, they would need to keep their customers’ data secure. Trust, after all, was everything. Without it, those 13 million accounts could go elsewhere overnight. 

That’s where Telepin came into the picture. Our record of world-class security and scalability earned us the contract, but it was our approach to providing Tigo’s customers with a platform that met their needs, secured their money, and kept them coming back for more which made the real difference. After a year of working together, Telepin had helped Tigo earn an 18% increase in its user base. 

We helped Tigo earn something else, too: a score of 100% in the GSMA’s Mobile Money Certification assessment, as judged by an independent panel. 

We’re proud of what our technology helped Tigo to achieve. But our pride as a company runs deeper than that. We’re proud to be part of history in the mobile money industry. 

The GSMA’s Mobile Money Certification is the only program in the world designed to recognize mobile money operators, and its launch signifies an important inflection point in the story of this industry’s meteoric growth. Regulators will always play a necessary role in protecting consumer interests and encouraging competition, but those of us building, deploying and monitoring this technology are interested in something far greater than even the most stringent regulations require. With a robust certification program like this one challenging all of us to continually strive for an extraordinary standard of excellence, we believe this industry is capable of truly remarkable change and growth.