Mula Review: A Simpler Way to Pay Your Bills and Buy Airtime

mula
Mobile money has over the years revolutionized the way we interact and spend our money. It all started as way to transfer money but over the years it has burgeoned into a hub for all things finances - from paying bills, getting loans to even managing your bank accounts from the comfort of one’s devices. At the forefront of such innovations are usually big and smaller players in the telecoms sector. One such player is Cellulant, a digital company specialising in mobile payments that last year quietly launched a new panafrican payment platform aptly dubbed Mula that promises to simplify the way we pay and manage your bills.



What does Mula do?

Mula is a payment platform that allows you to pay and manage your bills for various services. It's available in a couple of african countries inlcuding Kenya. Currently the services it caters for in Kenya include utility bills such as KPLC (postpaid and buying of tokens for prepaid customers), Nairobi Water, Nairobi (NCC) Parking Fees, DSTV, GOtv and StarTimes. They however promise to add more in the future. Mula also makes it possible for you to buy airtime for free for Safaricom, Airtel or Telkom numbers. Yes, that's right - for free, across all networks.


How does Mula work?

The Mula service is accessible through its Android app, website or the USSD code *369#. You therefore don't require a smartphone or an internet enabled phone to access the service. That said, the app is more preferable as it comes with more options and is much easier to navigate.

Now for Mula to do what it does, it provides you with a means through which you can access your money to pay your bills and buy airtime. The only available payment options at the time of this writing are M-PESA, Airtel Money and MasterCard/Visa while on the app and M-PESA only while using USSD or the website. T-Kash integration is underway and they're in the process to bring other players on board such as Equitel, PesaLink and select banks which you can request on the app. This way the app will be able to access your bank account directly (in the same manner as your bank app) so that you can conveniently pay your utility bills with this money.

Let's now take a brief look at these three Mula versions.


1. Mula - The App

When you first launch the Mula app (version 2.3.32) you'll be prompted to enter your phone number so as to activate it. The activation is done via SMS much like how WhatsApp does it and the app detects the code automatically. This authenticates you for now but note, should you remove or the change SIM Card on your phone later on, you'll be required to either verify again your number or to change the number before you can use the app.
activate mula
Activating your Phone Number

After activating your phone number, Mula guides you through setting up of a profile though this can be skipped for later. If you go through the profile set up, Mula will automatically detect a compatible utility service that is already linked to your number. You can link a service or choose to decline it.

In my case I was pleasantly surprised when it detected my old postpaid KPLC account number and name. However, I had to decline the linking since I've long since moved from where I used to live then not to mention the last time I was there they had already switched to prepaid.
kplc account
Auto-detected KPLC Account

Next you'll be prompted to select the payment options you would like to be accessible in Mula. M-PESA, Airtel Money and MasterCard/Visa are selected by default. The rest include select banks (Diamond Trust Bank, KCB, Co-operative, Stanbic, Barclays, Standard Charted, NIC, I&M, National Bank, Family, Faulu, CBA and Bank of Africa) which you would like to be integrated as payments options in the future. If your bank is available in the list, you can select it to be notified once it's made available as a payment option.
payment options
Payment Options

That completes the initial set up and now you can start using the app. The main app page is divided into three sections:

1. Home -  where you can see the status of your added bills (including pending transactions, amounts or overpayments).
main page
Main App Page

Additionally, clicking on the bill menu launches a menu to edit, delete or view the receipts for that specific bill.
bill options
Bill Options

Editing the bill allows you to change the bill details such as account number or account name should you wish to update these details.
bill details
Editing Bill Details

2. Airtime - where you can buy airtime for Airtel, Telkom or Safaricom using the app.
buy airtime
Airtime Page

3. Pay - where you can add and pay your utility bills for KPLC< Nairobi Water, Nairobi (NCC) Parking Fees, DSTV, GOtv and StarTimes.
utilities
Services/Utility Bills

4. History - where you can track all your bill payments and airtime purchases.
history
Successful Airtime Top Up

There's also a hamburger menu from which you can edit your profile and access support directly or from a handy FAQ.
menu
More Options

The profile includes the following options:
  • Adding Names, Email and Profile Picture to your Mula Account
  • Adding more payment options
  • Make a wish list for service provides/utilities you would want to be added to the app
  • Changing your main mobile network/number
  • Managing your Bill accounts i.e. adding or deleting existing ones (e.g. KPLC)




2. Mula - USSD

You can also access Mula via USSD on any mobile network by dialling *369#. You are not charged anything when you use this USSD. This USSD version is more stripped down compared to the app but it accomplishes much of what its counterparts do, but at the cost of more steps. So you can still pay your utility bills and buy airtime for any network using M-PESA. Plans are underway to add more payment options.
mula ussd
Mula USSD

From the Due Bill you can view any amounts that are pending that are already added to your account. If there are no accounts, you can access the specific services that are listed in this first page or add them from the My Accounts options. Lastly you can buy Airtime for any of the three aforementioned networks. Airtime can also be bought directly using the code *369*amount# as explained here.


3. Mula - Website

You can finally access Mula on their Kenyan website here. The web portal is more like the app and allows you to purchase airtime and pay bills. Like USSD however the payment option is currently only available through M-PESA.
mula website
Mula Website (Mobile)


How does Mula carry out the payment?

The first thing that struck me when I saw what Mula claimed it could do is just how it would handle the transaction seeing it was inevitable that my PIN would be required at some point. I take it you're wondering the same too.

So I took the risk and decided to buy some little airtime of KSh.10 for my Safaricom line just to see how it would work. Well it turned out that the PIN part is not handled by the app rather it just pushes this request to the SIM Toolkit which in-turn prompts you to provide your PIN to complete the transaction as you normally do. A complete run down of how this transaction takes place can be found here.

So it's not that different from how you would normally buy airtime or pay bills using M-PESA its only that this time the app is doing most of the heavy lifting for you; this way you don't have to go through the trouble of recalling and keying in the different paybill numbers (and their respective account numbers) every time you've pending bills for all these different services.

The USSD and Website versions likewise work this way. With the website version, you'll of course require the phone with you to complete the request. The SIM toolkit is triggered "remotely" and the only thing left is for you to provide your PIN to validate the payment.

Once a transaction is complete, Mula will provide you with a receipt of the payment. This digital receipt is shown in the History section of the app. If you tap on this receipt, you should get the full receipt that looks like this:
receipt
Digital Receipt for Airtime

A nice addition to this receipt is the share button which allows you to share the receipt using the options available on your phone (e.g WhatsApp, Email, SMS etc.). This way you can pay a bill for somebody and share this receipt with them for confirmation purposes. For transactions done via USSD and the Website, the receipts are sent via SMS however the later's do seem to get synced with those on the app as well. This way you can keep track of all the bills that have been paid by your mula account from one place.


What's next for Mula?

The biggest challenge for Mula right now I take it is to bring on board other payment options as well as other billers. I for one would for love to see some more water companies added to the app. With regards to payment options, M-PESA I suppose is sufficient for the most part but I don't see why Airtel Money and T-Kash should continue lagging behind on the USSD and Website versions. Some competition would do everybody some good especially now that interoperability is possible.

Use of debit/credit cards and future integration of bank accounts looks promising too, but I reckon this would only appeal to a much smaller segment of would be users. I say that because credit/debit cards while somewhat popular seem to be reserved mostly for ATM transactions while online banking loses much of its appeal when banking fraud and hacking is taken into consideration.

That said, Cellulant does obviously recognize the security implications posed by their solution otherwise a Norton Secured badge wouldn't feature on the app's splash page. The connection to the Mula website is likewise secure. Perhaps a solution to this would be to have a Mula dedicated wallet which Cellulant does seem to allude to have plans for in addition to the possibility of sending money to other users. This way users won't have to worry about linking their bank accounts to a third-party which I can see being a deal breaker for some. I also think doing this would reduce much of the overhead that would arise from working with all these different banks. Plus it's inevitable that some users will feel left out if their bank is not available in the app.



Conclusion

Mula’s refreshing take on how we not only pay bills and but also manage them is a much welcomed innovation in the mobile money space. Granted, payment of bills through mobile money, debit cards and online/banking apps is not a new concept however it's quite obvious now that nobody had contemplated integrating all these into a three-in-one solution. Mula does this but since it's still at its infancy, more work is needed to bring it to its full potential. That said, it's off to a promising start based on what it offers right now.

I think I've touched on the most pertinent issues regarding Mula and how it works. I would suggest you give it a try and see for yourself whether it's something you'd consider using. I’m already using it for my airtime buying purposes and I’m quite satisfied with it. Should you have more questions regarding Mula you can contact them using the details available on the app, USSD or on the website here.


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