Millions of Africans utilize their cell phones to manage their finances. Mobile money in Africa is currently in use in 36 of the 47 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is used prominently throughout East Africa.
Mobile financial services (MFS) have become increasingly popular across the continent for many reasons. Many economists cite safety, efficiency, transparency, and ease of the services as reasons for the increased usage.
MFS include more than just cash transfers, but have also expanded to utility bills, shopping, investment, taxes, and more. The services have also allowed easier cash flow across borders and between family members in times of crisis, which economists have cited as major motivators in service usage in the region, according to a report in All Africa.
One of the most prominent mobile money services in the region, M-PESA, was developed in Kenya. Since 2007, Safaricom and Vodafone’s M-PESA application has allowed users in Kenya and beyond to store funds on their mobile devices in order to transfer funds to other users, pay bills, and make other purchases.
The country now tops the global charts, with 58 percent of its adults having mobile money accounts. Former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph noted that mobile technology has been transformative for the informal business sector, which comprises about 70 percent of jobs in Kenya. This increase has been instrumental in helping surge GDP rates throughout the developing world.
The latest mobile money statistics indicate that users in East Africa have largely continued to shift GDP to be transferred via various mobile money platforms. According to All Africa, mobile transactions amounted to $45.75 billion for East Africa, comprising 32 percent of the region’s combined GDP.
This is a significant increase from the $4.86 billion transacted via mobile services in 2009, which only comprised 3.4 percent of the region’s GDP. In Zimbabwe, 45 percent of the country’s GDP is transacted via MFS.
In its 2014 State of the Industry report, the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) stated that MFS are ingrained in the majority of developing markets, with over 250 mobile money services available across 89 countries.
In 2014, almost 300 million users were registered for mobile money accounts. 2014 marked 16 markets with more mobile money accounts than regular bank accounts, “indicating that mobile money remains a key enabler of financial inclusion.” Furthermore, as smartphone access increases, the GSMA expects MFS usage to continue to increase rapidly.
Because of the prevalence of MFS through non-bank providers throughout the region, government regulators are passing guidelines for mobile money service provision in order to allow better financial inclusion for all members of society.
While competition has grown steadily between bank and non-bank mobile money service providers, regulations like these aim to maximize reach of the services to the widest audience possible. The GSMA report marks that 47 of the 89 markets with mobile banking have regulations to allow both banks and non-banking services to sustainably provide for their markets.
The GSMA outlined in its report that there are still obstacles in helping mobile money services achieve their full potential in the region. The report states, “Regulatory barriers, low levels of investment and lack of industry collaboration limit the ability for mobile money to reach scale.”
Despite these obstacles, economists widely expect mobile money to continue to grow in order to meet eager markets across the continent.
– Arin Kerstein