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Wireless Transfer: Mobile Banking and the Global Classroom

By the end of 2014, there will be more cellphone subscriptions in the world than there are people. This basic fact is forcing consumer-oriented companies to confront a host of new trends, already assertive in their influence. Growth in mobile banking, for instance—the management of money using cellphones—is stirring up the conventional role of banks in both developed and emerging economies.

Though increasingly important, “mobile banking is a very specialized topic, so we normally wouldn’t be able to offer a whole course on it,” said K. Sudhir, James L. Frank Professor of Marketing, Private Enterprise and Management and Director of the Yale China India Insights Program. This year, however, Sudhir was able to do just that: tapping into the recently launched Global Network of Advanced Management he offered “Mobile Banking Opportunities Across Countries.”

The Global Network for Advanced Management comprises 24 top business programs from around the world (including Yale) collaborating to understand the challenges and opportunities posed by global markets. Participating schools span more than 20 countries and 5 continents, from the Philippines to Ghana to Costa Rica.

“The international enrollment,” said Sudhir, “and the richness of context that came from different people from different places all arriving at different solutions—these complexities made the class feasible.”

And while online education in recent years has primarily adopted the model of MOOCs—massive open online courses—the Global Network advocates a different route: SNOCs, or small network online courses. (Yale senior associate dean David Bach coined the term.) The Global Network convenes a small and selective pool of top business students from around the world, and then sticks them together in an online classroom.

Such international intimacy made the class on mobile banking more than simply viable. “The possibility of creating a very personal course allows for a very specialized learning,” said Sudhir. While a narrow subject in itself, the details of mobile banking are deeply contingent on national context. The students, who hailed from diverse countries, “brought so many perspectives into the classroom that they created a new model of teaching not feasible in a traditional setting. The way they approached projects actually added immense value for everyone.”

Maurice Schubert, a student from IESE Business School in Spain, said that despite his expertise in European mobile banking, “working with people from India and Spain on the Brazilian [market] forced me to adapt and think about different approaches to targeting consumers.”

A handful of teams, each playing the role of a mobile banking entrepreneur, tackled a range of projects. One team created a business model to augment the chat function in China’s equivalent of Facebook, building in a feature for payment transfers. Another group looked into mobile banking for migrant laborers in Latin America, a population that needs simple solutions for sending money back home, to family. A third group, working with a business in India, researched the implications of smartphones on mobile banking; though most Indians don’t yet use smartphones, the expectation is that they soon will.

Importantly, beyond specific projects, the course was developed as a primer on the emergent global workforce. “I started the course by giving a lecture on how to succeed in technological collaborations, international collaborations,” said Sudhir, who intentionally built each team of students from different countries. “Our graduates are entering a world in which they must learn to work across customs and geography. That is very important, and an integral part of the design of the course.”

Sridhar Raghunathan, a student from the Indian Institute of Management, was quick to pick up on this challenge. “It was extremely difficult to coordinate with all the team members, especially since all of us were in different time zones,” he said. “But it was a very enriching experience.”

The mobile banking class was one of two piloted by the Global Network during fall semester of 2013; the other class was on antitrust law. Both were based at Yale. Several schools in the network are planning courses for 2014.