Intrapreneurs driving the frontier of mobile financial services

This post is written by Shital Shah, an SBI Consultant based in Ahmedabad, India.

Photo credit: Microenterprise Access Banking Services (MABS) Program

Photo credit: Microenterprise Access Banking Services (MABS) Program

Mobile financial services (MFS) businesses emerge in different forms – a bank, a technology company, or a mobile network operator (MNO) can all be catalysts for building an MFS offering.  While many MFS businesses are created as new companies, others come out of existing institutions as new business lines.  Those that are embedded as business lines within a company – such as the business line of a bank, or a new division of an MNO – require champions to conceptualize and create change from within.

These internal champions can be referred to as intrapreneurs.  “Intrapreneurship” has been getting more attention, especially from the social entrepreneurship world, in the recognition that social innovation does not always mean starting a new business, but could also require transforming within an existing institution. Ashoka and Echoing Green have been championing “social intrapreneurship” for years.  This applies to MFS as a business line of a commercial bank, MNO, or existing institution. Nick Hughes, for example, was heralded as a Vodafone social intrapreneur by Echoing Green in this document.  He started M-Pesa, a mobile money service in Kenya, while working within Vodafone, a global MNO.

As Echoing Green describes, social intrapreneurs thrive on risk and uncertainty.  They innovate on key concepts and business models, while facing the challenge of integrating existing processes and projecting their business case for the wider company.  Many have to struggle to make their idea heard and find a place for their product or service within the larger business.  Intrapreneurs must be skilled at gaining buy-in to catalyze investment, resources, and time into developing and implementing their concept.

The path an MFS intrapreneur has to blaze in order to envision, sell, and drive the new solution within an existing institution requires a multifaceted approach.  It requires rallying millions of dollars in investment, bringing internal and external partners together, and reframing internal operations (information technology, product development, marketing, human resources, finance, and operational processes).  Building a business from within not only requires vision, but also the ability to drastically alter the internal construction of institutions which have been entrenched in a certain way of doing business for decades.  Clearly, this is no easy task and takes a certain type of risk-taker, business acumen, and strategic thinking to make it succeed.  Since larger companies have the capital and capacity ability to move the needle on MFS more so than startups or smaller firms, intrapreneurs can play a significant role in altering the future of payments and branchless banking.

As we see more and more MFS intrapreneurs emerge from mid- and large-sized firms, we are interested in exploring this topic further to understand how these intrapreneurs, or “change champions,” within public (government and development agencies) or private (financial institutions or MNOs) institutions frame and drive the vision for innovation, change, and new partnerships.

To continue this conversation, SBI’s Vice President, Jesse Fripp, is joining USAID’s Mobile Solutions Division Operations Director, Nandini Harihareswara, for a video podcast on Tuesday, June 4 at 12 pm EST.  You can tune into the podcast here.   If you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas related to MFS intrapreneurship before June 4, feel free to leave a comment on this post for Jesse and Nandini to consider during their discussion or direct questions to Michael Gray at


2 thoughts on “Intrapreneurs driving the frontier of mobile financial services

  1. I think intrapreneurs are very important as this field expands and more Banks and MNOs enter this domain. As an interoperable and shared access MFS provider in Nepal, we are already seeing evidence of this from our partner Banks. We can clearly see that among the member/partner Banks – those that have intrapreneurs among them – are actually moving ahead and at a much faster pace – as compared to others ………that are just “going through the motions” – so to say. I would strongly recommend one such intrapreneur to involved in this discussion and get insights from – and that is Nikesh Ghimire, Manager Bank 2.0 (a real title) – from Laxmi Bank here in Nepal.

    Much of what Laxmi Bank’s activities and directions it is headed in are due to Nikesh’s intrperneurship – and it is highly commendable! His email id is:

  2. Pingback: USAID-SBI Video Podcast on Mobile Payments: What is a Mobile Intrapreneur? | Banking Beyond Branches

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