The first CEO of MTN MobileMoney Limited and of any mobile money company in Ghana, Eli Hini is a man who supervised over 1.085 billion mobile money (MoMo) transactions, representing more than 85 per cent of the total number of transactions in the third quarter of 2021. That, and many other reasons are why his colleagues in the industry fondly describe him as “The Godfather of Mobile Money in Ghana”. And that is why Eli Hini is TechGH Personality of the Moment.
It was therefore not surprising when he was presented with the most coveted “CIMG Marketing Practitioner of the Year” at the Marketing Performance Awards of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Ghana (CIMG) over the weekend. It was more than a well-deserved award for this soft-spoken, deep-thinking, high-creative and deeply-passionate marketer with a heart to make lives better for the greater majority of Ghanaian.
The opening paragraph of the citation for his award read: “Your exceptional qualities and acumen as an achiever saw your mother company create an SBU (strategic business unit) over which you were superintended as the CEO. Indeed, you have justified the trust reposed in you and have successfully turned the unit into a treasure pot. Your role as the Chief Officer of this multinational has become so significant that you have undoubtedly become the brain behind the company’s stellar rise.”
See the full citation below.
Indeed, the SBU the citation referred to is MTN MobileMoney Limited, which is now a company on its own, with Eli Hini as the CEO, reporting directly to headquarters in South Africa. Eli has been here from day one when mobile was first launched in Ghana, and has carried it from a non-profitable venture for six year to the ubiquitous and pervasive giant it is today.
First MoMo CEO
Eli is the first in the industry to have assumed the position of CEO of a legacy mobile money platform. As CEO of the overwhelmingly biggest mobile money platform in the country, Eli is responsible for driving strategy, business development, innovation and relevant operations of MTN’s Mobile Money business.
Prior to his appointment as CEO, he was the General Manager, MobileMoney Limited, a role he held for approximately five years. General Manager in that context, meant, he was the overall head of MTN’s mobile money department, but he had to report to MTN Ghana CEO. But now, he is a boss of his own, reporting only to the group head of mobile finance.
Eli was instrumental in setting up Mobile Money services in Ghana and growing adoptions, subscriber base, penetration, transaction volumes and value. He also led the MTN Mobile Money team to receive ISO certification (ISO/IEC 12007: 2013 certification) in January 2016 and the GSMA Mobile Money Certification in November 2019.
When Eli was appointed CEO of MobileMoney Limited recently, several industry stakeholders, including players, watchers, and even some regulatory personalities commented that it was long overdue, because Eli is more than worthy of the position. Indeed, if all the mobile money platforms in the country were put together and they needed a CEO, everyone would agree Eli is the best person to occupy that position.
Eli has been there from day one, when MTN Ghana launched the first mobile money service in Ghana on July 21, 2009. He was there when they launched with only two services – Money Transfer (P2P) and Airtime Purchase. He is still here as they have grown the platform to now have six major categories of financial transactions under which varying services are provided.
The big six are pensions, insurance, savings, micro loans, shopping, payments, international remittances and banking/investment options. This is how MTN has led the powering of several local financial technology (fintechs) platforms/companies, some of which have grown into multi-million-dollar companies now.
From the start of mobile money in the country till date, Eli has led a team that has shown deep understanding of the Ghanaian market and what works. He has led the team to take very bold steps and risks, while other players sat by and waited for the ideal situation before acting. MTN Mobile Money under Eli has blazed many trails, paid the price and left valuable footprints for others to follow.
From less than 100,000 subscribers after six months of launch, MTN Mobile Money now boasts of more than 15 million customers over the last 12 years. Which means, under Eli, MTN MobileMoney is registering more than a million customers in a year on the average. They started with nine partner banks and now they about 20 of them with almost 400,000 mobile money merchants across the country. Indeed, the merchants would admit that without MTN MoMo, their investment into the agency business would not have been worth it.
But it has been a long road for Eli and MTN Mobile Money. He recently admitted that when they first started, MTN invested heavily into mobile money for six years without making any profits, but the business kept investing because they were more focused on creating financial inclusion rather than immediate profit.
MTN’s strategy then, which was criticized by some of its peers, was mainly over-the-counter service, where customers were assisted by merchants to transfer money instead of loading their own wallets and doing the transfer. MTN was however not shy to start with that, as that was what Ghanaians were used to. It cost Eli and his team for six years and he had a tough time convincing his bosses to keep throwing more money in for that long. But now that the ideal situation is here, MTN is the overwhelming market leader and Eli has been vindicated.
Indeed, when mobile money interoperability was first launched in the country, the custodian of the platform, Ghana Interbank Payments and Settlements Systems (GhIPSS) openly admitted that MTN was gracious enough to have joined the platform because they could have conveniently chosen to stay off the platform and survived on their own comfortably. That was evidence of the excellent leadership and boldness of Eli in driving the platform to that gargantuan status.
Per government’s records, MTN commands about 75 per cent mobile money market share. But some other earlier reports said the company had 94 per cent market share at some point, while the other players share the remaining six per cent. Indeed, without MTN, there is no mobile money industry in the country, in spite of the fact that a competitor claims to hold the mobile money blueprint.
Eli’s commitment to the growth of mobile money in the country goes beyond just MTN Mobile Money, as he even personally often joined his fintech partners to go from region to region promoting fintech products/services on the MTN Mobile Money platform. He was recently lauded by one of Ghana’s major fintech players, IT Consortium for personally playing a key role in the acceptability of IT Consortium services on the MTN platform.
Eli was adjudged the CIMG Marketing Practitioner of the Year this year, for the way he has democratized finance services, and turned MTN Mobile Money into a treasure pot for the company. Prior to that, he was honored as the MoMo Trailblazer by MTN Ghana at the 10th anniversary of MoMo held in Accra. He has also received several awards in his career, including a Special Award for his Immense Contribution to Promoting Financial Inclusion in Ghana at the 8th edition of Ghana Information Technology and Telecom Awards (GITTA), 2018.
Eli has been described by his colleagues and industry experts as: “The Godfather of Mobile Money Evolution in Ghana” due to the pioneering roles he played in the growth of the country’s mobile money industry.
Under Eli’s leadership, MTN Mobile Money also forged partnerships with International giants like Google, Western Union, World Remit and International agencies such as World Food Programme, UNHCR, GSMA, among others for various services, including remittances and pro-poor interventions.
MTN MoMo has partnered several organizations to rollout key social empowerment projects over the decade including helping digitize the agriculture value chain through mAgric, community savings & loans schemes and scaling up female participation within the MoMo merchant space, all led by Eli Hihi.
According to the World Bank Global Financial Inclusion Index released in April 2018, Ghana’s financial inclusion increased from 41 percent in 2014 to 58 percent in 2017 mainly on account of adoption of digital channels such as mobile money for service delivery. In other words, the MTN team led by Eli, more than anyone else, actually democratized financial services in Ghana.
The revolution of mobile money transactions in the Ghanaian economy, led by MTN, has instigated a paradigm shift to a new kind of retail banking system where large segments of the unbanked populace are being absorbed into the financial services sector. That has given government the confidence to undertake a myriad of digital projects hinged mainly on mobile money to deliver on its digital economy agenda to Ghanaians.
Eli is a Chartered Marketer with over 18 years’ experience. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and a post-graduate diploma in marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK. He has also held leadership positions in Unilever Ghana Limited and Coca-Cola Bottling Company Limited, where in participated in several strategic leadership training programs.
As CEO for MobileMoney Limited, Ghana, Eli also serves on the board of MobileMoney Limited at the group level.