Automatic top-up: future-proof or passing fad?

We recently sat down and talked shop with Alper Altan. As the business development manager for Alphacomm’s top-up platform, Altan has a pretty good idea about where the industry is headed.

To many, the top-up is as old as time itself. It’s quite likely that your very first mobile phone was prepaid. In a way, little has changed from the days of the old prepaid Nokia 5110. For most people, topping up credit still means buying scratch cards at the supermarket. Still, one wonders what the next chapter in the evolution of prepaid top-ups will be.

That’s a question we all want to know the answer to. As for Alper Altan? He’s convinced the answer is automatic top-up.


What is automatic top-up exactly?

“Automatic top-up is exactly what it sounds like. The credit is topped up automatically, without any human intervention. It’s completely frictionless and saves users a lot of time.”


Why does automatic top-up matter?

“Automatic top-up is an amazing tool, especially in the prepaid phone market. It makes the entire top-up process a lot more convenient. Let’s be frank, nobody likes to top up their phone. The process can be quite cumbersome. Say, you’re in the middle of a call and your phone runs out of credit. That’s bad enough, but now you need to leave the house and visit a store somewhere, just to get extra credit. Annoying right? You never really know when you’re going to run out of credit. This is the dilemma that automatic top-up solves.”


So how does automatic top-up work in practice?

“Well, that depends on your credit usage and behavior. If a user’s usage pattern is rather unpredictable, she could opt for a trigger based on her credit threshold. In other words, once the available credit drops below a certain amount, the payment order for extra credit is automatically placed. Similarly, the automatic top-up can be triggered on a recurring weekly or monthly date. If you know you get paid on time, just set automatic top-up to coincide with that date.”


Why do you feel this is a game-changer?

“Automatic top-up gives mobile phone providers the ability to make ‘prepaid’ users more ‘postpaid-like.’ One of the main differences between the two is that postpaid users have signed contracts. Whether he or she uses the phone or not, is totally broke or currently travelling abroad, a postpaid user is required to pay a bill every single month.

A prepaid user with automatic top-up can rest easy. There are no financial consequences of a failed top-up. If the account balance is too low and the payment fails, nothing happens. The user would simply have to do the top-up manually. The next time an automatic top-up is triggered, the system will go ahead and try again.”


So automatic top-up is good for the consumer, but is it good for business as well?

“Of course. You know, one of the biggest challenges facing the prepaid phone market is customer churn. Since top-up is such an inconvenient experience, many users postpone topping up their phone credit for undefined periods. Many, influenced by special promotions, may switch SIM cards, opting for the flavor of the month, just to take advantage of temporary benefits.

Automatic top-up flips the script. We’ve seen that for users with an automatic top-up, switching SIM cards simply isn’t worth the effort. They become more like postpaid users and stick around a lot longer.”


Any other benefits besides the reduction in customer churn?

“That’s cost reduction. How? Let’s take another look at the example of the postpaid user. If the monthly bill isn’t paid, consequences will follow. First of all, payment reminders are sent. After a couple of months, perhaps they block the phone’s mobile network access. After that, company personnel will have to chase down the user and try their best to get the money owed. If that doesn’t yield positive results either, a bill collector will be tapped to take over the process.

By this time, the company would have spent considerable human and financial resources in its attempt to collect the outstanding payment. This is rather unfortunate. The last thing a mobile phone provider should be doing is asking their personnel to chase after unpaid bills.

Offering automatic top-up is a means through which businesses can reap the benefits of having postpaid-like clients that pay regularly, without any of the risk associated with postpaid.”


At the moment, the automatic top-up is mostly used in the mobile phone industry, but where else do you see it being used in the future?

“In theory, automatic top-up can be used in just about any branch of industry with products or services that rely on credit. Public transportation, car parks, school or office cafeterias and online gaming, to name a few, would all be more convenient if we didn’t have to think about reloading prepaid credit. We truly believe the possibilities for automatic top-up  are limitless.”

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