Interview with Joan Mwaura, CEO of Oxygen 8 Group
In the two years since our last discussion, what changes have taken place in the company?
Due to the changes in the world brought about by the pandemic, we had to be more innovative, so we switched products. We have moved on from the old lottery system where people had to register and if they won, the winnings went to their account. We have made it easier for our players to play. It is no longer necessary to register. People can directly access their mobile money account, play and get a ticket. If they earn less than 300,000 Kenyan shillings, they get it directly from their M-PESA. This means that we do not hold clients’ money and we do not create liabilities on our side by holding client earnings. It is the only lottery in Kenya who does not have accounts. Players do not need to register. If you play, you will receive your winning numbers by text message and you will receive your money directly on M-PESA. We are still the only lottery in Kenya to offer this feature, and we hope to do so in other markets as well. But in Kenya the penetration of mobile money is very high and that has given us an edge in the market.
We have also changed the way we work because of COVID. We used to interact more with winners in the past, but COVID restricted movement, there were curfews, and some counties were banned. It was also the first time that we had done a digital interview with a winner. We used to do live event testimonial interviews but now we don’t do that anymore, especially since it is better to avoid travel. It’s an economic change, but it’s also a challenge because with the lottery you get people from different places. If you find someone who is in town, it’s easy as they’ll do their photo, post live on Facebook, etc. a challenge. We have innovated and changed the way we do things. Now if we can’t do video, we do a phone interview and use repackaged audio for advertising.
The lottery is more important, it is not a basic need, but you have to spend the money. So someone who was playing with 100 shillings will play with 50 shillings. They are still playing, but we had to take into account the economic times we were in, so we had to change things because of the cost.
We also had to change due to the limitations caused by the pandemic and because there was an advertising ban on gaming entities that lasted for over a year. Considering that as a lottery we are used to being in the media and telling people to play, we had to find some innovative ways to make sure that if you have played you know what your winning numbers are and if you have won, have received your money, and don’t have to wait to be called or verify your account.
The pandemic has been an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to grow, and it was also an opportunity for us to realize that being comfortable was one of the greatest risks we can have as a business. .
What about the corporate side of the company, what has changed?
We are now more online. The best thing about Kenyans is that they adapt very quickly. The supermarkets and the stores people went to, the cross-border payments, it was all online. So we had more people who wanted billing solutions, more people who wanted a solution in terms of payments and customization of their systems whether it was buying, sending goods, sending money, they are able. to do it themselves.
In terms of billing markets, anything we weren’t using M-PESA for had to be speeded up. The border is the biggest for us. At the border, people paid cash in different currencies. We needed to develop a cross-border payment whereby if you are in Kenya, you can pay by M-PESA, and the beneficiary in Tanzania receives payment via Safaricom in Tanzanian shillings. It was huge for us.
We hope the industry will change. Kenya and Tanzania are easy, and Uganda gets there, so we hope it’s something we can develop in the markets we’re already in, like Ghana. Mobile money is important, so we are investigating whether cross-border payments between Ghana and neighboring countries can be done with mobile money. The government can track the payments, there is more accountability, and the money can go straight to the government account instead of going through third parties.
Activity has grown on the billing side. Previously, we were on hold in case our help was needed, so we wanted to make sure the system could run on autopilot. What we do now is support and that has reduced our costs, but it has also allowed us to deliver business solutions that we wouldn’t have thought of if the need hadn’t arisen.
What business solutions do you need to develop and in what areas?
The pandemic has been an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to grow, and it was also an opportunity for us to realize that being comfortable was one of the biggest risks we can have as a business. .
Cross-border payment is one area. If I pay in Kenyan shillings and it happens on our payment invoice, it is automatically converted to Tanzanian shillings and because we are connected to the mobile money side in Tanzania, the Tanzanian side will receive the money in Tanzanian shillings. This means that customers do not have to go to the bureau de change. As long as I know the daily exchange rate, I am able to transact on your behalf. If you have money on your mobile, you don’t have to go through the cash withdrawal process. You make the payment and it is reflected in another country which we did not do before. Lots of COVID infections were crossing the border because so many people interact with each other there, so we had to think about how to make sure there is as little contact as possible so that we don’t create another hub where the coronavirus can spread. It was a problem because the money came from different places and changed hands several times.
In terms of digital insurance, what do you want to bring to the market?
Insurance penetration in Kenya is limited to urban centers. We want to change the market so that there is easy access to affordable and accessible insurance. What we noticed during the pandemic was that people weren’t well educated about the benefits of insurance, even basic coverage. We want to create it in such a way that it is fast and you can buy it on your cell phone in five minutes. We want to partner with insurance companies to create affordable products. If it is hospital cash cover, you can pay 100 shillings per week which will cover you in the event of an accident.
We also want to target the informal sector. Our insurance market has targeted more on people who are employed or people who are on the corporate side, but this covers less than 20% of the market in Kenya. So you leave a large number of people in informal employment sectors that are not covered.
We want to create solutions that work for the insurance side, but our goal is to make sure that we create insurance that is affordable and accessible and that would change the way an ordinary person views insurance and how it benefits them.
Are you open to global partnerships?
A percentage of our board is in Europe and the insurance market in Europe is very different from what it is in Africa. They’ve come to a point where they’re developing fintech solutions, so we’d love to welcome partners who see the market as it is today and can see where it can go in three, four or five years.
In France, they have reached a point where they can insure pets. For us, we don’t even cover 20% of the population, let alone pets. We want to get to that level. We need to work on providing insurance options for health, household, car, and life insurance before we consider insuring pets.
We need to get to a point where in terms of health coverage, people can see that there are benefits to living a healthy lifestyle.
What do you want to achieve in the short or medium term and what are your ambitions?
The Lotto Foundation distributes funds raised through Lotto to good causes across Kenya. In terms of what we’ve done for CSR, we’re at 7 million shillings, so I would like to get to a point where we’ve returned 1 billion shillings, or $ 10 million. What I learned with the Lotto Foundation is that you can be very cocooned. We can be so wrapped up in business, making money, and branding, but there is so much else going on in the world. The Lotto Foundation has opened our eyes to see that what you are going through is not even a fraction of what the rest of the world is going through.
From a personal and business point of view, I want to have the biggest lottery in Africa. We are in Mozambique, we launched in Ghana, we do Zambia and Tanzania.
On the insurance side, I’d like to get to a place where I can say I’ve made a difference in accessibility. Where people see insurance as an affordable product that gives them benefits when they need it. If I could reduce the insurance market by 25% and make it available to people who had no insurance before, that would be a good thing. And I hope to be a better person, a better leader and a better mentor.
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