By Zachary Ehrlich  Sat Apr 7, 2012

TIO Networks Gives Underbanked a Mobile Wallet

Interactive bill-pay kiosks have made TIO a leading bill-payment processor with more than $1 billion worth of transactions per year, catering specifically toward the underbanked. Now it is adding Mobile Pay to their suite of products, making a further push to help the unbanked with their bill payments.

In a discussion with Rob Goehring, Chief Marketing Officer for TIO Networks, and Brian Yan Muk, from TIO’s mobile payments team, they explained how the relationship of cash to bill payers will affect the future of a mobile solution.

With an established network of kiosks and clerk-assisted retail payment centers, TIO decided that consumers should have the ability to quickly and easily load cash and pay bills straight from their mobile phone with a cloud-based wallet platform. In addition to visiting a kiosk or retail counter to pay a bill, you now have the option of paying right from your phone.

Spread of the smartphone

As smartphones become more ubiquitous, the underbanked are increasingly able to buy high-quality smartphones, according to data from Cricket, one of TIO’s partners.

Thus, the TIO Wallet, which was announced last month, connects the kiosk and TIO’s retail cash counter network to the phone, which has the effect of allowing TIO to “bank the unbanked.”

Banks look to increase deposits, whereas TIO wants to leverage bill transfers as an onramp to a personal financial management platform that will include features and applications such as credit building, micro finance and money remittance.  TIO is looking to provide a holistic solution for a forgotten but important segment of the population – the underbanked/underserved.

Yan Muk pointed out how crucial the mobile aspect has become and leans on the kiosks and clerks as deposit centers. Since the Wallet is bank agnostic, you get the feeling of leaving a bank, but you do not lose your sense of security. Accounts are encrypted and secure and rely on an email and a PIN, and use bank-level security.

Cash is (still) king

The proliferation of this and other products, like PayNearMe featured at 7-Elevens, will ultimately determine how the underbanked treat their cash. Goehring thinks they will want to hold it, preferring only to deposit cash into their Wallet before they have to pay a bill.

But as the unbanked strive to stabilize their finances, they may want to load more money if another bill is anticipated next week. If there is no kiosk or servicer nearby and no money in the Wallet, mobile bill pay accepts credit cards and bank-account transfers. However, in that case we are no longer talking about the unbanked.

Goehring is confident that TIO’s users trust the network with their money and bills, which means hopefully they would load as much cash as they’d need to pay upcoming bills or bills.

This also puts them in an interesting position in relation to NFC technology. While NFC-based updates inadvertently encourage you to put more money in your bank account to fund the multitude of purchases you will make, TIO’s Wallet users want to keep a small balance.

Not exactly the market to chase with flashy NFC updates.

Once NFC becomes popular (if ever), Goehring assured me that TIO will take it into account. Perhaps the TIO Wallet may become somewhat like a credit card, allowing you to draw on small funds not yet deposited once you have established yourself as a responsible bill payer.

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