Note: This is an opinion article based on pure understanding of the local business market. No official communication was made to the companies referred in this piece.Mohamed Muse Hassan, the Author
If you’re the CEO of Hormuud Telecom and you’re approached by the CEO of Premier Bank for the integration of EVC PLUS into the system of Premier Bank, what would you do? If you decline the business offer to co-operate, that’s very understandable. And that’s most likely what happened before Premier Bank introduced Premier Wallet. This is the dominant business mindset in Somalia which is purely based on competition.
But why Hormuud Telecom would decline the business offer since the two companies are in different industries: telecommunication and bank industries? It has to do with Salaam Somali Bank, a bank owned by Hormuud Telecom. The EVC PLUS feature of Salaam Somali Bank is the main competitive advantage of the bank. Then, why would Hormuud Telecom give away the sauce of its bank? Therefore, Hormuud Telecom has every right to fend off its child bank against the close competition. But was co-opetition an option for Hormuud Telecom instead of directly competing against Premier Bank?
Co-opetition vs Competition
The term co-opetition means the mix of competition and cooperation. In other words, it means cooperative competition. The term was coined in the late 1990s. Now, co-opetition is a common business practice adopted globally in different industries and competitors such as Samsung and Apple, Ford and GM, and UPS and DHL.
Why sometimes co-opetition is a lucrative business practice? It saves cost and duplication of efforts. It also allows companies to trade their expertise and skills. The latter was true in the case of cooperation between Hormuud Telecom and Premier Bank: Hormuud Telecom has EVC PLUS and Premier Bank has a vibrant innovative banking system. A great partnership would have been made.
Let’s take the example of Apple and Samsung. Apple wanted the Super Retina OLED screen from Samsung for its iPhone X. Samsung had the best chance to hurt Apple in the short-term and refuse to sell its industry-leading Super Retina display and also protect its Galaxy smartphone. But they didn’t do that? They knew the business opportunity to cooperate there.
If Samsung refused to cooperate with Apple, LG or BOE would have been the next alternative for Apple; a disadvantage for Samsung. Samsung accepted to enjoy the big check attached to the deal: get $110 for each iPhone X sold. But, for Apple, getting the best screen was worth bankrolling an already well- resourced rival—at least for a while. A win-win for everyone at the end.
The Case of Premier Wallet and EVC PLUS
If a cooperative opportunity is on the table, start by imagining what each party would do if it’s not taken. That’s the first rule of thumb under the co-opetition business practice. What other agreements would be made by your competitor if you refuse the opportunity to partner? Who else they might go for help and partnership?
In the case of Hormuud Telecom, the company emphasized more on protecting the sauce of Salaam Somali Bank rather than analyzing what Premier Bank would do if they don’t give the EVC PLUS integration. But they should have shared the sauce with Premier Bank without sharing the recipe of EVC PLUS.
Once Premier Bank knew EVC PLUS integration was not an option, they looked for another alternative. And Premier Wallet was born, an innovative digital wallet that allows even the non-banked members of the society to use the services of Premier Bank. This has greatly contributed to an already strong public perception that Premier Bank is arguably the most innovative bank in Somalia, another disadvantage for Salaam Somali Bank. In other words, Premier Bank is becoming a strong competitor due to a decision of Hormuud Telecom.
If Hormuud Telecom allowed the integration of EVC PLUS, Premier Bank would have become dependent on the payment system of Hormuud Telecom. This would have portrayed an image that no Somali company can thrive without the systems of Hormuud Telecom. A missed opportunity!
Now, both parties are suffering, one in the short-term and the other in the long-term. Premier Bank has incurred huge costs to build Premier Wallet. Yet, the wallet doesn’t still support offline access or feature phones. Therefore, Premier Bank will suffer in the short-term until it achieves the tipping point of adoption.
On the other, Salaam Somali Bank will face an unmatched strong competition from Premier Bank in the long-term, if not in a few years. And worse, this competition has been inflected by its own parent company. Hormuud Telecom would have let Salaam Somali Bank compete against other banks by offering innovative products and services rather than protecting it in a socialistic way.
Now, due to monopolistic business practices in Somalia, every banking business is working on an alternative payment system. Every bank is innovating on its own. Today, IBS Bank allows you to send money to neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda. MyBank followed suit and recently introduced MyPay which allows you to send money to Turkey, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Kenya, and Uganda.
It’s time for Somali companies to cooperate to add more value to the nation. There is more to cooperation than competition. The first step: think about the next move of your competitor if you don’t cooperate.