Africa’s Cellulant Group, a digital payments’ service provider that prompts, collects, settles and reconciles payments in real time, recently released Mula app, an operator neutral payments app targeted at the continent’s growing mobile-first generation and especially Kenya’s burgeoning mobile internet users.

Simply put, Mula app, which is still in beta, aims to simplify bill payments and airtime purchase easy by aggregating all the available payment platforms in one place in this case M-Pesa, Airtel Money, Orange Money (not yet), Visa and Mastercard, local bank mobile platforms among others. There is no promise of PayPal and bitcoin yet.

On mobile payments, Cellulant group is not new as it pioneered the purchase of ringtones using SMS codes from newspaper adverts over a decade ago. Let’s look at how it stacks in this new age of multi-network digital payments. I had downloaded the app and signed up after I was sent an SMS code earlier as I was part of the testing crew. That process needs no explanation and can be done in a few seconds depending on your internet connection. After signing up, let’s look at the interface.

First a look at the app’s interface.

Interface

The app interface is definitely one of its strong points. I personally like the light blue and white colours. Your bills and transaction history are well laid out in detailed lists that are not cluttered. I hope that geeks at Cellulant will personalize the app according to a user’s frequently used options. So that is I buy airtime more often than I pay for other bills, airtime comes first at the top.

Having bills in red could be a great way to highlight them but my little history with colours shows danger and I wouldn’t want to use Mula when all the bills are shouting at me every time. A cool colour would be more inviting. Mula’s work is not to shout at me to pay the bills, its to help pay them and the more I use Mula, the more I make Mula happy. If I were the developer I would have the bills in light blue like the sky when its brighter but without the stars.

Tapping on a transaction presents you with virtual receipt that even has the zigzag bottom as if it was cut off from a thermo roll. Cellulant does a great job of having a proper menu for the app namely Home, Airtime, Pay, Banks and lastly History. The menu is placed in a convenient location at the bottom of the main screen and are easy to access.

The app has a handy tutorial mode when you first open it; it guides you through the interface features step by step. Through the guide in the demo, a user can see the actual interface in the faded background. The tutorial is perfect.

The icons are very close, you keep pressing the wrong one

My only issue is that the ‘add favourite bill’ function is too close to the customer support button that you will, most of the time, press the unintended one. I think these icons would have been better placed on the side menu instead. Another issue I have with the menu is that it contains links to Mula’s social media pages; that is not the best design I must say and literally, it shows Mula is more interested in unreal social proof than daily happy users evangelizing the app to their friends and family by word of mouth.

Functionality

Yes, that is the whole list, very limited

The app, through the Pay tab, lets you set up bill details for utilities from providers such as Kenya Power, Nairobi Water and NCC Parking. There are also three TV and internet pay bill accounts namely DStv, GOtv and Zuku. This is a very limited list and is holding back the growth of platform but it’s still early and Cellulant might be on-boarding more clients.

For bills that are listed, like Zuku, the application picks your bills from your SMS inbox and lists them on the Home tab. It intelligently knows which bills are due and it sends you reminders before the deadline, all you have to do is press ‘Pay’ and enter your PIN, then it completes the payment. Isn’t that cute?

For airtime, you buy it across platforms from M-Pesa or your bank account. Our only problem is how does Mula make its money if it does these for free. Mula does not let you input custom bills such as rent to your agent or another internet provider, it is indeed very unfortunate but not the end as the app offers a place to describe what kind of bills you would want added to their menu, it’s called ‘Wishlist’ under the profile section but, the developer team need to add suggestions to prompt users to add whatever bills they frequently pay. I imagine many people would like to be paying their rent via the app with just a single tap, or even sending money to their favourite betting sites like Sportpesa or Betin with the same convenience.

You can share bills with other people

In addition, you can have someone else such as your guardian or roommate pay a bill for you via ‘pay with another number’ option. The recipient will receive an alert and once they approve it, the payment is completed. This feature is great for sharing bills with other people accordingly. Unfortunately, there is no option of splitting a bill amongst various people for instance those roomates that share a service such as Zuku or electricity. You will have to send a request to each person, one at a time.

You can also buy airtime for various service subscribers such as Airtel, Safaricom and Orange in the Airtime tab. This too can be paid for by other people. Also, if you buy a specific amount of airtime at set intervals such as daily or weekly, you will only need to be pressing the ‘buy again’ button, in the History tab, to conduct the whole transaction. Once you pay a bill or buy airtime, you are bombarded with very many texts, two from your service provider, two from Mula and sometimes even more, not to mention app alerts too.

Still under development

The Banks tab will let you pay bills directly from your bank account, the operative word here is ‘will’, that’s because the feature is still under development. I guess Cellulant put the tab there to let you know they are working on it but some might take it to mean that they are promising things they have not delivered yet.

The customer care is very responsive

On a positive note, in case you get stuck on the app, there is a very helpful support team that is very fast in responding to your queries.

 

Pros

  • Clean interface with uncluttered lists
  • Intuitive navigation with startup tutorial
  • Bill payment reminders are helpful
  • Automated transactions are done with only one single tap
  • Collection of bill information from SMS is very convenient, you don’t have to type it in
  • Very fast and efficient support team
  • No login needed, only a code sent to your number

 

Cons

  • Very limited list of support bills
  • No option of making custom bill such as rent, betting sites etc
  • Transactions fail every now and then
  • No bill splitting feature amongst multiple people
  • Some interface icons are too close together such as the help and ‘add favourite’ icon
  • Only two pay TV providers are listed Multichoice and Zuku the majority of them such Startimes, Bamba and the rest are left out
  • Some features are still under development such as the banking option.