Friday, 8 March 2013

The E-future Part One: Am I a Number?

Fans of the late sixties cult classic series The Prisoner will recall the central theme around people being assigned numbers rather than names. Science fiction? Ask yourself, are you a number? You may not think so, but stop and think about it again. Your mobile phone number is in fact your global identification number - a single unique number by which anyone on the planet can identify and, of course, contact you.

It's pretty obvious but hadn't occurred to me until I had the pleasure to listen to a presentation by Roy Vella, the respected mobile financial services expert (sometimes even referred to as 'mobile evangelist') speaking at the Future of Retail Banking Conference in November 2012. He suggested the world now has more mobile phones than tooth brushes, with populations in developing nations viewing the mobile phone as a subsistence item not a discretionary one.

SMS, email messages and soon payments will all be linked by this one unique number. Already the UK banking industry - encouraged by the Payments Council - is setting up a database which can link all bank accounts to their owners' mobile phone numbers. Heavily advertised recently, Barclays' Pingit service is one of the first to enable one individual to send a payment to another simply by using a mobile phone number.

What does this mean for the debt industry? The boom in mobile commerce is already starting to impact the way the industry communicates and interacts with debtors. Creditors and debt collection agencies are waking up to both the challenges and opportunities this presents. Look around and you'll see everyone around you glued to their mobile device, increasingly using mobile internet rather than actually speaking to someone. The biggest challenge facing our industry is to embrace this trend whilst at the same time ensuring the interaction is personalised, friendly and human.

We may be a number, but we don't want to be treated as one.

By Carlos Osorio, Director e-collections and payment services, TDX Group

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