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This article was published on May 31, 2012

Of money and mobile: OpenMarket sees the future as limitless

Of money and mobile: OpenMarket sees the future as limitless
Jamillah Knowles
Story by

Jamillah Knowles

Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemi Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemimah_knight or drop a line to [email protected]

At the Open Mobile Summit in London, a gathering of big players in the market gathered to look at the future of movements like media and mobile payments.

The practise of spending money via a mobile device is still very fragmented as technology companies work on making the process smoother and marketers consider how to encourage users to trust a service.

OpenMarket is a veteran in the field, Andrew Darling, Associate Director of marketing and communications, EMEA feels that the market still has some way to go, “Enterprises, brands and agencies are still struggling to understand the mobile value chain. It’s more complex than online,” he points out. “In some sectors there is still a belief that online models can just be transferred to mobile. A lot of people had their fingers burnt and unfortunately that has affected a lot of brand spend in the sector.”

The company should know what it’s talking about when it comes to mobiles and money. Openmarket was a startup in 2000 called MX Telecom, it was then acquired by Amdocs in 2010 and became part of its digital services division. In the beginning, the firm did premium SMS, WAP billing and mobile messaging.

The firm now operates as OpenMarket in the US, North America, UK, Northern Ireland, Australia and India.

“We used to describe ourselves as a mobile services hub,” says Darling. “While there is a lot of activity in over the top services for mobile internet. There’s still a big role for the operator networks to play within the ecosystem, even if it is just exposing APIs. Whether it’s an app, mobile web presence, mobile marketing activity, we act as a bridge between those sectors including ents, media, retail, charity, gaming, gambling services and expose them to APIs across all networks in key markets that we work in. We can offer direct operator payments.”

Advantages of operator billing

As the mobile financial sector evolves, mobile operators are working to position themselves to compete in the payment space. Services like O2 Wallet are emerging and it seems although operators have some catching up to do, there are ways in which they can support brands and companies.

Darling says, “We believe there is a good opportunity to monetize mobile services via operator billing. People gripe about the revenue share of operator payments, that’s an argument that’s been going on for years. Payouts used to be 70% but now we are seeing payout rates as much as 85% going to merchants. The situation improves with scale and volume.”

Some brands are taking the leap outside of places like the Apple ecosystem, like the Financial Times. For subscription services that work in this way, operator billing can be key. “The appeal is the frictionless nature of operator billing, especially for items between £10-30,” says Darling. “If you’re not happy adding your credit card details or setting up yet another wallet, then this method for microtransactions makes sense.”

Learning from developing countries

OpenMobile has opened up shop in India, mostly to develop carrier payments relations, but there are also lessons to be learned in the region.

Darling says that payment systems in South Asia are evolving, “Workers who were using services like Western Union money transfer are now using SMS and these payments work just as well.”

The SMS payment model can be carried over to other sectors such as charities. Although initially wary of using text messaging, the sector has embraced short code donations and messaging as a way to increase engagement.

“We found that with the DEC emergency appeals were a great example of how this can work,” says Darling. “Over six weeks they generated over a million pounds from SMS donations. The campaign was supported by posters and advertising. Coupled with our messaging system donors could learn about opting into GiftAid and receive thanks for their donation.”

Through the Gift Aid option, the charity raised a further 25% and said that 60% of people texted opted in to GiftAid which was a better response than email. With these figures, it seems that the model is stabilising as a way to engage a mobile audience that might see a poster and impulsively wish to donate. “These charities now see mobile as a fundamental part of their donation, stakeholder engagement and marketing strategy,” says Darling.

Mobile suite

Though the multitude of ways in which brands can use mobile might appear to be complicated for some companies, Darling believes that the choices are a strength. Messaging is still strong enough, even though the arrival of push notifications on smartphones is starting to gain traction.

“Smartphone users in general are still more likely to respond to text messaging,” says Darling. “This type of communication is still regarded as more personal and a high percentage of people are more likely to respond more quickly. It all depends on the content and for companies to ensure that they engage and not alienate customers.”

With a combination of experience and services for messaging already set up and a move to look at more in the way of push notifications and possible apps, Darling sees the future as something fruitful for OpenMarket and the companies that work with its services.

“The future is busy,” he says. “Our user base is theoretically limitless. We want to make sure that they’re doing this through trustworthy means and not through some back-room aggregator that cannot guaranteed termination, receipts and things like that. We offer reliability and robustness. I’d rather that the clever marketing people came up with their campaign and then we can enable them to work in the mobile space safely to see those ideas implemented.”