SMART unlocks mobile operator revenues in the Philippines with multiple World firsts


For the Philippines, remittances is a game-changer, showing healthy growth over the last 5 years and a highly competitive set of services from players across a wide range of industries. Philippines became the first country to introduce mobile money in 2000 and is a pioneering example for many different digital money services today. It is therefore highly instructive to hear from the experiences of Smart (PLDT), the largest mobile network operator in Philippines, and one of the very first to launch Smart Money as a mobile operator-based solution.


UN ban ki-moon2Today I am delighted to share with you some brilliant examples that use the concepts of digital money to unlock revenue streams.

I have with me Lito Villanueva, Vice President and Head, e-Money Innovation, Digital Ecosystem Build & Global Engagements at Smart Communications, Inc. Lito shares how 14 years down the line, SMART is launching innovative services to create new revenue streams.



Mobile Operators in Financial Services

Financial services were once seen as a certain business model for new revenue streams for mobile operators. However this has proved to be harder than expected. This year Host Card Emulation (HCE) has sharply focussed on the fact that mobile operators are no longer the sole gate keepers to Mobile Payment NFC revenues. The GSMA has this year promoted Interoperability initiatives that hold a promise of better mobile money adoption, but this is not an easy solution as mobile operators do need to make the business model work through better churn reduction.


The Filipino Context

Although 12th in terms of population, The Republic of the Philippines is the third largest receiver of remittances in the world, with $22.7b for 2013, forecasted to rise to $28 million in 2014. Remittances touched a new monthly high of $2.286 b in Nov 2013, 7.5% higher than previous year due to Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), giving a boost to the new aid-oriented services.


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SMART Money evolves into a “surround” experience


At Shift Thought we have for some years described how mobile phones are the magic sauce, but not the sole ingredient in a mobile operator’s toolkit for succeeding in financial services. It is important to create rich customer experiences across multiple channels and services, that I have termed a “surround” experience.

I think one of the markets in which we see good examples of a diverse set of services is in the Philippines. On a visit to the country to trial the service I found it delightfully simple to use my SMART Money card to pay for provisions at a department store as well as transfer money to other users.

I was interested to see the new Smart Postpaid app that was launched a few days ago as a one-stop portal to manage postpaid accounts. For use on Android and iOS devices, this makes it easy to access a range of features through one number *121#. It is products like this that can create consumer experiences that put the customer in charge.

Now this month SMART launches something revolutionary: A unique solution branded as  LockByMobile. I was delighted to hear all about it from Lito.

My interview with Mr. Lito Villanueva follows. Enjoy!


It is great to have you here today Lito. Could we begin with a bit of background about yourself and the unique expertise you bring to the industry?

I currently lead initiatives at SMART to unlock the potential of e-money, extending beyond mobile money. Naturally we seek to leverage our unique capabilities with respect to mobile services.

Our mission is simple – to keep pioneering world-first solutions and unlock digital finance services to meet the unique needs of Filipinos including those in high growth and emerging markets.

Take for instance our world first anti-fraud and security solution. This month we are rolling out this solution to allow our customers in the Philippines to lock and unlock ANY ATM or credit card using its patented and proprietary LockByMobile.

We all know how important it is to control card security especially as online card-not-present use cases become more prevalent. Using our service people can finely tune what their card is allowed to do and lock down services themselves to prevent fraud.


You have been at SMART in the early days, back in 2007 – how has your strategy regarding financial services changed since then?

Well, for one thing, we did not have smartphones back then. Today over 10 million of our 70 million user base access our services via smartphones.

The Philippines is very much an Android market, and as the cost of handsets gets lowered we’re able to enhance the user experience of our services.


Yes, I’ve just been analysing implications of the launch of Android One, shortly planned for the Philippines. But what of the recent Apple Pay announcement?

Apple Pay is expected Q1 2015, but our NFC service will be launched ahead of that.

In November, we plan the first wave of a contactless payments rollout to our 2.5 million post-paid subscriber base. This is in partnership with Visa and Citi and will let people pay at Starbucks, McDonalds and other retail stores for face-to-face or via Paywave POS including our massive online merchant base such as Zalora, Easy Taxi, and a lot more in partnership with Rocket Internet for online commerce.

Remember that our parent company PLDT invested Euro333 Million into Rocket Internet representing approximately 10% equity share.


I understand you are also innovating with mobile loans services?

Yes, we offer salary loans via mobile to over 120,000 employees at 260 government agencies in Phase I.

This will extend in Phase II to include up to 20 million employees of private companies. They get access to what we believe is one of the lowest interest rates, at just 0.83%. This is touted to be the world’s first mobile-based paperless and fully electronic credit, savings and insurance in one.


What about money transfer and international remittance services?

At present domestic money transfer is big – it represents 70% of the volume, with international remittances accounting for 30%.

We’ve not so far made a big dent in this huge opportunity. One reason for this is the Philippines is a key market on which banks and money transfer operators in the key send corridors remain sharply focussed.


What are the differences that SMART Money has brought about in the Philippines?

Over 8 million of our 70 million subscribers use our services today. SMART is cited for being proactive and dynamically focussed on financial inclusion initiatives.


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Three innovations launched by wireless services leader Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) and its subsidiary Smart e-Money, Inc. (SMI) were recently ranked among the world’s best by

Smart Money Padala was nominated this year as Best Mobile Payment Solution. It serves the domestic and international money remittance requirements of Filipinos. With this service, Pinoys can transfer funds to tens of millions of Smart subscribers at the speed of a text message.

Smart Money Padala boasts of a large remittance network, with 95,000 international and 27,000 local remittance partners.


What are the biggest challenges faced?

Since our last conversation, we continue to be very focussed on customer education, and increasing the number of value added services.

Customer education is very important in order to lift the percentage of active subscribers from the current level of around 20%. It is a steep learning curve for customers to change the way they pay and we continue to create campaigns to address this.


What is your vision for 2015?

Our vision is to harness digital commerce to support every customer’s digital lifestyle. The time is right – the time is now. Things have come together to let us move from mobile phone payments to a much broader spectrum and support across an entire set of use cases.

No less than our chairman Mr Manuel V. Pangilinan is a firm believer of democratizing data by making free and available across our prepaid base of over 66 million. This is a strategy to shift our customers to the digital marketplace!


Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts with us Lito. We wish you the very best for 2015 and beyond!


imageLito Villanueva is Vice President & Head for Payments Innovation, Digital Ecosystem & Global Engagements at Smart Communications, Inc.

Lito has unique expertise that crosses multiple segments and services from his work at SMART, IFC-World Bank and Visa. He is one of the few mobile money global practitioners to have a mix of experience in both banking and MNO sectors with a great deal of exposure in multi-market interventions and global best practices with established relationships with key stakeholders including international funding agencies.



Shift Thought has recently published “Digital Money in Philippines 2014”, a detailed study on the complex Philippines market. We have also created a unique research document focussing in depth on the remittances opportunity with respect to the Philippines.

Contact us today at  to get access to this and other recent research on the Philippines and each of the emerging markets around the world. Each reports uses our proprietary Viewport format to create a highly interactive experience connected into our unique portal.




Remittances remain buoyant but cross-border mobile remittance still less than 2%


World Bank’s recent reports on remittances indicate a welcome continued buoyancy. India remains the largest receiver, as growth in 2014 is led by East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. However MENA flows are affected due to disturbances in the region, and ECA countries traditionally receiving inflows from Russia are badly affected. While mobile money has been adopted for domestic money transfer, 7 years on it has yet to make the inroads into cross-border remittances that was originally expected.


Good news as global cost of remittances falls from 8.9% to 7.9%

The global average cost of sending $200 fell from 8.9% in 2013 to 7.9% in Q3 of 2014, as remittances go online and digital. Account-based money transfer (cash-to-account is the lowest-cost method today). However although mobile money is being used for domestic money transfers, and is making an impact on sending money from urban to rural areas, its use for cross-border transactions remains limited. Less than 2% of remittance value took place through mobile phones. Yet with global remittance flows at $542 bn this even now represents a flow of $10 bn.

However Bill Gates believes that even with all the regulatory compliance it should be possible for pure digital to digital transactions to be moved at less than a percent. We are still far from achieving this goal. Is it a case of further enablers or something else that is needed to make this this possible?


Global remittance flows to developing countries are projected to reach US$435 billion in 2014


At a much welcome 5% increase over last year, the growth is expected to continue into 2015, though at a reduced rate of 4.4%. Total flows are expected to rise from US$582 billion in 2014 to US$608 billion in 2015.


Forced migration is at an all time high with 73 million forced to leave home

The main message from the latest World Bank report on migration is that forced migration due to conflict has reached the highest level since World War II. Of the 73 million who had to leave their homes, over 51 million were forced to move due to conflict, and 22 million moved due to natural disasters.


India remains largest recipient at estimated $71 billion

Highest receivers are India ($71 b), China ($64 b), the Philippines ($28 b), Mexico ($24 b), Nigeria ($21 b) and Egypt ($18 b). Yet these flows are not as high as they could be. The largest receiver, India, only receiver 3.7% of GDP in 2013.


Remittance flows respond to natural disasters

Remittances continue to offer a much-needed lifeline of support in times of natural disasters, rising by 16.6% for Pakistan in 2014, and 8.5%  in the Philippines in 2013 in response to destruction from the super typhoon.


Regional trends

Remittances are projected to increase by 7% in the East Asia and Pacific region (EAP) with China and Philippines being the largest receivers. Remittances to South Asia have rebounded strongly in 2014, expected to grow by 5.5% to over $117 bn in 2014, with very strong growth for Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Growth in remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa is picking up in 2014, expected to reach $33 billion in 2014. Nigeria continues to dominate in terms of inward remittances flow, with $21.3 bn forecast for 2014.


imageRemittances to Europe and Central Asia (ECA) are slowing as compared to 2013 affected by conflict in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. The figure shows how receivers of remittances from Russia have been affected as remittances received continue to decelerate.







Another affected region is the Middle East and North Africa, but despite the volatility, remittances represent substantially larger and more stable sources of inflows. Remittances to the region are expected to grow by 2.9% to reach $51 bn. Remittances to Egypt are expected to stabilize in 2014,  after the 2013 decline of 7.3% in remittances to Egypt (biggest receiver in the region, 6th worldwide).


For the full World Bank report click here: Migration and Development Brief 23 


Charmaine Oak, Practice Lead, Digital Money

Author of The Digital Money Game, co-author Virtual Currencies – From Secrecy to Safety