Things were a bit tense on this bus in Vietnam; we were crawling through traffic to Ho Chi Minh City’s airport to catch a flight 90 minutes away, and the bus had broken down twice. <b1>
So the SMS telling me that my insurance policy had lapsed due to non-payment was a welcome distraction. It said I could pay through my mobile.
So I SMSed “MCHEK 01145361 15000” (policy number and premium amount) to 56767. The mChek programme popped up, and asked me to confirm the payment with my PIN. I did.
In a minute, I got an SMS from mChek confirming the payment, and one more from my bank telling me my credit card was debited Rs 15,000. Ten minutes later, I got an SMS from ICICI Prudential thanking me for my premium payment, and telling me that my policy had been revived.
Now, back to the more pressing problem at hand... catching the flight home. (We made it with 20 minutes to spare.)
Mobile payment systems let you pay small to mid-size amounts from your phone. They register your credit card number along with your mobile phone number, so you can make a payment quickly. (The RBI has capped the daily transaction total at Rs 10,000 now, so I could no longer pay by SMS the same insurance premium last week when I tried; I had to do it on the web.)
mChek has over a million users, and with good reason. First, it has the blessings of Airtel, and every Airtel user gets prompted to try out mChek. Second, it works over SMS, and is thus supported by every handset. In theory, it also works with every mobile service, though in my tests it’s not quite as smooth with operators other than Airtel or Tata Indicom (with whom mChek has a specific tie-up).
You go to www.mchek.com and click ‘Click here to register now’; enter your mobile number. You get a PIN by SMS. Enter this and your name, credit card number, etc. Follow the instructions. Or you can register from your Airtel phone by sending MCHEK to 543219, or else to 59909 if you use Tata Indicom. (For other operators, you send MCHEK to 56767, but this doesn’t work as smoothly.) Or you get a new 64k Airtel SIM card: it has mChek built in.
If you have a very basic phone, you can begin to use the service over SMS. If you have a smarter phone, you’ll get prompted to install the mChek application. It’s quick and easy to set up.
I’ve made payments to Airtel phones, including to others’ phones (I used it to pay Rs 100 to a cab driver’s Airtel mobile; he’d found and returned something I lost in Mumbai). I’ve recharged my Tata Sky account (SMS – PAY TATASKY 200 1001714276 would charge my account with Rs 200, in case someone wants to try!), insurance, etc. You can also buy movie tickets, flowers and air tickets.
There are other m-payment systems, including ngPay, Oxicash and others, which support a much larger range of vendors and merchants than mChek. But none is as easy and quick to use, or as widely supported on every handset. You’d typically need a GPRS-equipped smartphone (which is okay) but also additional steps for transactions (which is not). Oxicash, for instance, needs you to top up your ‘virtual wallet’, putting in cash before you can use it; and you may pay usage fees. Mchek has no transaction fees for users.
Bank on your phone
Most private banks today send you SMS alerts on transactions; a few public sector banks do so too. Some let you do basic transactions by SMS (my first m-payment was an Airtel bill paid in the end-1990s through HDFC’s m-payment gateway, a service they’ve managed to keep a secret for a decade). ICICI Bank has a wide range of SMS keywords (IBAL for balance, etc) that are tough to remember and are not consistent across banks, making it impractical.
Very few banks let you do the entire gamut of transactions on the mobile, through a downloadable programme for your smartphone and a data connection.
ICICI led the way in India: I’ve been using its mobile payment application, iMobile, for some time. You download it from icicibank.com, set it up (most smartphones are supported), and then you can do from your mobile most of the things you can from your web-based Infinity account. It’s graphical and designed for the phone screen, making it quick and easy to use.
This is just a sampler: two very different, but effective, mobile payment systems. There are others. If you haven’t used them – try them out! If you’ve been using a great one – let me know.
Prasanto K Roy ( email@example.com ) is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles such as Dataquest and Living Digital