All’s Not Lost for Mobile Operators in Payments & Commerce: 2016 Revenue Opportunities for US MNOs

It was the year 2008. The 5 largest mobile network operators (MNOs) in the US had started working on a joint play in mobile payments - it was a super secret initiative to take on the very financial institutions who were also their biggest customers! Now this was a big deal, not because it was top-secret and required the involvement of antitrust counsel, but because it was ambitious! Very ambitious! The initiative had the potential to disrupt the balance of payments amongst the 2 proud industries, considering that the biggest US banks pay the biggest operators hundreds of millions of dollars for telecom services of all kinds. In turn, the largest mobile operators pay hundreds of millions of dollars in payments and other fees to the largest financial institutions. With this new secret project, the MNOs were getting ready to eat their lunch, i.e. the big banks’ lunch!

Even though the MNOs were conspiring to invade the greener grass on the other side jointly, there were already some not-so-secret lines of communication between individual banks and individual MNOs to brainstorm areas of collaboration. I remember one such introductory call between the payments & commerce lead at the largest US MNO and the mobile innovation lead at the largest US retail bank. After the pleasantries and the exchange of self-congratulatory statistics (We just crossed 90 million subscribers), there was bound to be some unsavory banter like, So, who owns the customer? - that phase was already going out of fashion in public discourse, regardless of whether or not it is still a consideration in decision-making. And then someone said:

Let’s stick to our knittings…

At the time, this did not seem like an acceptable position to agree to for any self-respecting new business development person in either of the two camps ...

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