Mobile e-money taking off in Côte d’Ivoire

Mobile e-money taking off in Côte d’Ivoire

(reposted from Alliance for Financial Inclusion News Updates)

Mobile phones in call centre in a village in the sub-prefecture of Seguela, 592 kms from Abidjan in September 2013. Photo credit: SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

Located on the coast of West Africa, Côte d’Ivoire is a member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). Spread over an area of ​​322,460 sq km with a population of 20 million, the country is one of the rising examples of the dramatic affect of mobile e-money on financial inclusion largely due to a supportive policy and regulatory environment, a growing mobile phone penetration rate that has increased from 50 percent in 2008 to over 100 percent in 2014 and an active mobile e-money sector largely driven by new non-bank players.

As in many other countries in Africa, limited access to financial services, which had been previously limited to banks and microfinance players, is now being overcome by new non-bank mobile-enabled e-money players in Côte d’Ivoire. While access to banking and microfinance was only 21.8 percent at end 2013, the new digital e-money players are now helping drive financial access rates to approximately 66.3 percent of the population. The financial landscape in Côte d’Ivoire is now changing due to a dynamic sector, comprised of not only banks and microfinance institutions but also new e-money issuers. The whole sector is now changing to adopt digital financial services to support greater financial inclusion on a scale and growth rate that has even surpassed the uptake in even the well-known e-money markets in East Africa. It is also important to note that apart from the two new non-bank e-money institutions there are also six joint e-money partnerships between telecom operators and banks.

Dramatic Uptake of E-Money

The overall performance indicators show that mobile enabled e-money services are growing on a per capita basis at one of the fastest rates of any country in Africa. By the end of 2014, there were over 4.6 million active e-money customers (up over 240 percent from 2013) which transferred more than CFA 2,233 billion ($4.6 billion) in transactions (up more than 186 percent from 2013). The agent network likewise grew from 10,752 from 2013 to 19,260 in 2014.

Table 1: Key indicators of E-Money in Côte d’Ivoire

For the full article read here: Mobile e-money taking off in Côte d’Ivoire.

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Wing Pushes Digital Finance Frontiers Further in Cambodia

Wing CambodiaReposted from a blog by Eric Duflos @CGAP

The shift from traditional microfinance and banking to digital is easy to see in Cambodia. All the market leaders such as ACLEDA Bank, AMK, and AMRET are increasingly using technology and agents to serve their customers.

A few weeks ago, Wing, a leading third-party payments provider in Cambodia, obtained a specialized bank license from the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC). With $4.5 billion in transaction volume in 2014, and an estimated 1.5 million customers (in a country of 15 million inhabitants), Wing has become a leading player in financial inclusion in Cambodia. Wing has one million over-the-counter (OTC) customers and about 500,000 registered customers who can make transactions with cards or mobile phone either in Riel or in dollars. The average transaction size is at $110. In comparison, the microfinance sector in Cambodia has about two million borrowers and 2.3 million depositors. These figures reflect considerable penetration of microfinance and increasingly of digital payments as well. According to Wing, 67% of its customers are rural and 37% are women.

The announcement of Wing’s new specialized bank is groundbreaking. In other countries, we see increasing collaboration between Mobile Network Operators or payment providers and banks to broaden the product offering to low income such as for M-Shwari in Kenya. In contrast, Wing hopes to use its specialized bank license to offer a wider range of services beyond payments. It will be interesting to see what kind of advantages the new license will bring Wing customers as well as for its business model and how it might affect the traditional banking and microfinance sector.

According to Wing CEO, from a customer perspective, the new license would enable those registered customers to get some interest on the balance they hold on their Wing account. Customers will get 1% per annum which is more than most banks and MFIs pay on deposits. As for credit so far Wing has only provided airtime credits to its customers so that they can automatically top up when they run out of airtime. Wing also intends to provide credit lines to its agents who usually borrow to manage liquidity (20% of their agents currently borrow money for such purpose). Wing will also develop international remittance services for Cambodians working abroad who want to remit funds home.

For Wing’s everyday business, the new license means that they are now fully accountable to the NBC, and fully independent from ANZ, the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. Wing expects to get significant income from the e-float deposited in banks, which was not the case when Wing was related with ANZ. It could also mean Wing would be able to develop new products with more agility, which is important in an increasingly competitive environment. Metfone has just received a third-party payment processor licenses, and others are expected to follow. These new players could compete for Wing’s agents in the future. Wing’s independence from ANZ will bring opportunities for new partnerships with other players. For example Wing plans to share its 2,500 agents with MFIs for loan repayment and with banks for cash withdrawal. Wing is already collaborating with eight MFIs on loan repayment collection.

But the license also raises challenges for Wing and for the financial inclusion industry at large. Being a bank is a different business from being a third party payment processor. The new reporting and supervision requirements from the National Bank of Cambodia may not always be easy to manage. It will also directly report to the Financial Intelligence Unit on AML/CFT issues. Wing will need to acquire new skills and new staff which will take time and resources.

This situation may also create challenges for NBC as it will also require new regulations and staff with the skills to supervise in areas such as safeguarding e-float and protecting customers. It is indeed crucial in such a fast evolving environment to ensure good protection of low-income customers’ money. The NBC is well aware of the issue.

Finally, the license raises questions for the traditional financial inclusion providers. Will the license force a bigger change across the traditional banking sectors where players may feel the need to compete with all things Wing does? Or is the Wing effort likely to lead to greater specialization by different players where Wing and similar organizations build partnerships with other institutions to deliver services? Do-it-alone or do it through partnerships? This question is even more relevant since Wing also hopes to get a full bank license in the coming years.

To read the full article click here.


Eight trends that will impact financial inclusion in 2015

My Own Thoughts on the Mobile Money Predictions for 2013

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New Financial Inclusion Innovation in Colombia: Electronic Deposits

Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

María del Rosario Moreno Sánchez

Colombia is a prominent example of a country that has included financial inclusion as a priority in its national agenda since a very early stage. Indeed, in 2006, the Colombian government created a unique national agency that works with the financial sector and deals exclusively with financial inclusion and education—Banca de las Oportunidades. Moreover, Colombia approved many relevant policy and regulatory reforms focused on promoting a greater financial inclusion by using correspondent agents (municipal agents), and the use of mobile banking to deposit conditional cash transfers to social programs beneficiaries of “Famililas en Acción”.

Lately, on 21 October 2014, the Colombian Congress passed Law No. 1735 and created a new type of financial institution called Sociedades Especializadas en Depósitos y Pagos Electrónicos (Specialized Electronic Deposit and Payment Institutions). Sociedades are a new deposit-taking license entity that can be incorporated by a…

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Eight trends that will impact financial inclusion in 2015

My own predictions for eight trends that will shape digital financial inclusion in 2015.

Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

John Owens

A man displays his phone in Kenya.

The use of digital financial services will continue to be one of the main drivers for financial inclusion in 2015. In the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) Network, we have noted quite a few interesting trends both on the technology side and the policy side that should have a direct impact on advancing financial inclusion through digital means this year.

1. Agent Banking Expanding in Other Regions

While agent banking has been around for several years in Latin America, it will expand quite a bit in other regions, especially Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. In the past couple of years we have seen 17 new Maya Declarations by central banks and policymakers around the world focusing on agent banking regulations and targets.

See the 2104 Maya Declaration Progress Report

The number of policies and regulatory changes increased significantly in 2014…

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Central Bank of Yemen issues new mobile banking regulations

Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

John Owens

A Yemeni money changer serves a customer at his small shop in Sanaa. A Yemeni money changer serves a customer at his small shop in Sanaa.

On 11 December 2014, the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) issued new mobile banking regulations following an almost two-year process of reviews and discussions with the private sector and support from USAID, the World Bank, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). While there was much debate and a lot of international expertise that was brought to Yemen to develop this regulation, the central bank still wanted to learn from other central banks from around the world as well as address some lingering internal concerns. Mansour Rageh, who is the Deputy Manager for Islamic and Specialist Banks at the Central Bank of Yemen and the bank’s representative to the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s (AFI) Digital Financial Services Working Group (DFSWG), recently visited the new AFI office in Kuala…

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Easypaisa ATM Cards: Demonstrating the Value of Convergence


Easypaisa, Pakistan’s first and largest branchless banking provider, initially focused on mobile enabled e-money and agents to facilitate access to banking services.  Over time, Easypaisa realized the value of convergence and building on the existing banking infrastructure by allowing funds transfers from and to any bank in the country.  In addition, in December 2013, they went from a pure mobile cardless solution to offering ATM/debit cards that allowed their members to access ATM and POS debit cards across the country.  This integration and convergence now allows for Easypaisa clients to take advantage of the existing banking infrastructure in a way that a mobile only solution could never support and is a good lesson learned for others offering mobile e-money solutions.

Below is an excerpt from Easypaisa’s recent announcement on achieving 250,000 registered ATM/debit card holders.

In January 2015, Easypaisa has reached a milestone of more than 250,000 ATM Card users, a number which validates the trust and faith that customers have placed in the service and the convenience it has brought in their lives.

Every month, more than PKR 1 Billion are being withdrawn using Easypaisa ATM cards. Prior to the ATM Cards, Mobile Account users were able to withdraw cash from their Mobile Accounts from any of the 50,000 Easypaisa shops. However, with the launch of Easypaisa ATM Cards, Mobile Account users can now withdraw cash from any of the 6,000+ ATMs (1-Link or M-Net) across Pakistan.

Unlike conventional banking norms, where bank customers have to wait for weeks to get a new ATM card delivered to their home, Easypaisa ATM cards can be picked up from any Telenor Service Center, Sahulat Ghar or Tameer Microfinance Bank branch and can be activated instantly without any additional documentation requirements. Easypaisa ATM cards meet all the banking standards and are cost effective; each ATM card costs PKR 200 only and does not have any annual or recurring charges. The major benefit of the Easypaisa ATM card is that a replacement card does not take weeks; a new Easypaisa ATM card can be picked up again and activated instantly.

In only 5 years, Easypaisa has gained intense momentum, recognition and popularity amongst the unbanked people of Pakistan through its comprehensive services and a large network of agents. The Easypaisa ATM card is an instrumental product for those segments that only have a need to withdraw money, for example, pensioners and social cash transfer beneficiaries. The customers in these segments rarely own a mobile phone, nor do they have adequate literacy levels to operate a mobile phone. For such users, the Easypaisa ATM Card is a much more familiar instrument to withdraw funds from the nearest ATM or a Bank POS machine.

The Easypaisa Mobile Account, as a whole offers a wide portfolio of services that encourages formal savings, and a cost effective method of withdrawing funds, paying bills and transferring funds. It remains the easiest and fastest Branchless Banking account to open from any Telenor Service Center, Sahulat Ghar or Tameer Microfinance Bank branch. In a country with 100 million plus adults and estimated to have only 15 million Bank Account customers, Easypaisa stands committed to Financial Inclusion with a registered customer base of 3.3 million Mobile Accounts.

See more at


Congratulations to Easypaisa on its 5th year Anniversary! 

Lesson #3: Using Mobile Money to Promote Financial Inclusion: Focus on Building Trust

My Own Thoughts on the Mobile Money Predictions for 2013

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Renaming this Blog: Moving from Mobile Money to Digital Financial Services for Development

Taken from the Mobile Money Pakistan Blog

Taken from the Mobile Money Pakistan Blog

In 2012, I set this blog up to focus on my work and experiences supporting mobile money for development.  At that time, much of the world interest was in the use of mobile technology and especially mobile enabled e-money services to support development.  Over the years, however, I have witnessed the growing importance of the convergence of various financial players from payment operators, both traditional companies and new start ups, banks and various new financial players, to other third party operators to support broader digital financial services to promote financial inclusion.  As I have mentioned in my post last year, these expanded services include greater integration and convergence of electronic funds transfers, debit/ATM cards, and agent banking.  Over the past couple of years, a range of public and private players including USAID, DFID, GIZ, the IFC, the Better Than Cash Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CGAP, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, and other groups have actively supported or focused on policy areas that promoted the use of digital financial services for greater financial inclusion.

As stated in the blog article Offering Digital Financial Services to Promote Financial Inclusion: Lessons We’ve Learned, the greater role of governments, regulators, private sector players and, more importantly, the role and perspective of clients at the base of the economic pyramid, now have a much better chance of accomplishing deeper financial inclusion than we have seen in the past.  Based on my observations and the importance of looking more broadly at the use of digital payments and other forms of digital financial services, I have decided to rename this blog to the Digital Financial Services for Development blog.

Stay tuned for my upcoming blog on the digital financial services predictions for 2015!


Offering Digital Financial Services to Promote Financial Inclusion: Lessons We’ve Learned

Moving from Mobile Money to Digital Financial Services for Financial Inclusion 

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Digital Financial Services, Regulations and Financial Inclusion: Where Are We Headed?


Participants take part in the “Digital Financial Services: Where are we Headed?” panel at the 2014 GPF in Trinidad and Tobago.

Key central bank governors from Africa, Latin America and the Asia Pacific recently shared their views on the role of digital financial services and financial inclusion.

African Perspective

Africa continues to innovate in the area of digital financial inclusion, primarily via mobile-enabled electronic money services. Digital financial services have continued to dramatically expand both access as well as the range of options to further support not only for financial inclusion but economic growth opportunities as well. In addition to e-money being utilized as a money transfer service, it is now being used as the rails to increase access to a broader variety of financial services, from banking services such as deposits and loans to promoting payment opportunities for micro and small businesses to buy supplies and sell goods and services.

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Njuguna Ndung’u pointed out:

“In Africa, physical distance is a barrier to financial services and Africans are happy that digital financial services have become a platform that has taken off.”
However, the Governor also stressed the view that greater interoperability and interconnectivity between banks, payment providers and electronic money issuers will be important to continuously deepen access to financial services.

Africa is also now witnessing several changes to the regulatory framework around e-money platforms, which are further supporting and strengthening their appeal. New regulatory developments in countries such as Tanzania and Rwanda as well as others in the region are helping to support and bring down the costs of cross border remittances via mobile-enabled e-money. In addition, as more customers store funds in their mobile-enabled e-money wallets, regulators are also taking notice to ensure that customers are both protected and provided with benefits that come with saving funds in the only manner some customers are able to in their countries via an e-money wallet. In particular, Kenya and Nigeria are planning to allow pass through deposit insurance for the holders of e-money trust accounts. Tanzania also has recently issued a circular that allows e-money issuers to distribute interest paid by banks on e-money trust accounts to the individual customers of these accounts.

Latin American Perspective

Santiago Peña, board member at Banco Central del Paraguay, discusses the future of digital financial services in developing regions around the globe.

Santiago Peña, board member at Banco Central del Paraguay, discusses the future of digital financial services in developing regions around the globe.
The scene across Latin America is also changing rapidly as regulators seek to balance both the protection of customers as well as support the expansion of responsible digital financial services. Paraguay has been the early leader in the region, notably in regard to the expansion of non-bank electronic money services and greater access to digital financial inclusion. Twenty percent of the population in Paraguay is now conducting mobile-enabled payment transactions and there are now more mobile-enabled e-money subscribers than bank accounts in the country. “Mobile-enabled electronic money accounts have had the greatest impact in the shortest period of time in terms of reaching the unbanked with a financial service that uniquely serves their needs,” said Santiago Peña, board member at Banco Central del Paraguay (BCP). But he also pointed out traditional banks now recognize the opportunity to make use of e-money services entering this market as well in the region.

Other countries across Latin America are also quickly changing and adapting laws and regulations focused on increasing digital financial inclusion, most recently in Uruguay, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. The recent financial inclusion law in Uruguay now requires that over the next four years all government agencies transition to making payments via e-money. To ensure broad-based access the law mandates these e-money accounts be free to open, not include maintenance fees, and have no minimum balance requirements. Colombia’s recent financial inclusion law further strengthens and expands digital financial access channels for all Colombians. The law allows for the establishment of new electronic deposit and payment entities which will be able to not only be able to offer e-money services popular in other countries but also treat these accounts as deposit accounts with providers allowed to pay interest, and to have these accounts covered under the national deposit insurance scheme.

Peru has come up with well-defined regulations on e-money, which were adopted after AFI supported knowledge exchange visits to Africa and Asia. This has allowed the opening of the market to a broad range of both bank and non-bank financial institutions. One of the most exciting developments in Peru is the new approach to supporting interoperability and interconnectivity among multiple players and institutions under the Modelo Peru. This new initiative involves the establishment of a mobile payment ecosystem based on a shared e-money platform, which can be used by all parties, including: financial players (banks, savings and loans and microfinance institutions), mobile network operators and government entities.

Mobile-enabled e-money services are also taking off in Bolivia with operators processing over USD 15.9 million from January 2013- March 2014. According to Bolivia’s central bank there are now more than 628,000 registered mobile-enabled e-money wallets in Bolivia.

To wrap up his thoughts on the future of digital financial inclusion in Latin America, Board Member Peña also noted that the important thing moving forward is not more regulations but better regulations to support innovative financial services.

Pacific Islands Perspective

Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI) Governor Denton Rarawa.
Central Bank of the Solomon Islands Governor Denton Rarawa shared lessons on the role of regulations and the impact that digital financial services are having within small island nations. In particular, he listed some of the key regulatory approaches that have been crucial to support digital financial services across the region:

  • The importance of an “Open Door Policy” that allows for a continuous close dialogue with the private sector in developing policies and regulations;
  • Implementing a “Test and Learn” or “Test and Follow” approach to new innovative financial services;
  • Instituting simplified tiered KYC regulations;
  • Promoting and supporting financial education and client awareness initiatives;
  • Collaborating and sharing with other regulators in similar environments.

In particular, he highlighted how the Pacific Islands Regional Initiative provided useful support to other central banks in terms of sharing new regulatory practices and approaches to better enable digital financial inclusion.

Looking forward, Governor Rarawa pointed out that to continue to support digital financial inclusion regulators need to look at:

  • Methods to further encourage digital financial service providers to take an applied product innovation approach to design more value added digital financial service products that suit customers needs;
  • Ensure that appropriate consumer protection issues are addressed, especially for new clients entering the financial services market via the digital platform;
  • Continue to support financial education and client awareness of the responsible use of new digital financial service options.

During both the forum and working group meeting, it was agreed that innovation is changing rapidly and regulators need to find a balance to both support new innovations as well as to ensure legal certainty for the private sector. Mr. Peña highlighted in his closing comments that it is the private sector, not the regulators who are closest to the market, “We do not have all the answers and we have to provide the rules for all the players but at the same time, we have to allow for innovation.”He stressed, however, that there is need for regulators to spend time in understanding the risks associated with new technologies. Financial inclusion is a huge challenge and it does require that regulators to both balance innovation with financial stability as well as to ensure consumer protection. At the same time, the regulators need to embrace new technologies and innovations and this can only be accomplished through public private sector dialogues.

Arjuna Costa, from the Omidyar Network, urged both regulators and the private sector to ensure “we come back to the importance of understanding how technology can be used to better service and meet the needs of clients, especially the poor.”

Read the full blog post here:


Unlocking the potential of Africa

How to manage all your financial affairs from a $20 mobile phone

Highlights on the Mobile Financial Services Landscape in Tanzania and Lessons for Regulators


Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

John Owens

Participants take part in the "Digital Financial Services: Where are we Headed?" panel at the 2014 GPF in Trinidad and Tobago. Central Bank of Kenya Governor Njuguna Ndung’u, center, takes part in the “Digital Financial Services: Where are we Headed?” panel at the 2014 GPF in Trinidad and Tobago.

The 2014 Global Policy Forum (GPF) and the Digital Financial Services Working Group meeting held in Trinidad and Tobago in September gave many policymakers the opportunity to share various digital financial inclusion trends from several regions around the globe.

African Perspective

Africa continues to innovate in the area of digital financial inclusion, primarily via mobile-enabled electronic money services. Digital financial services have continued to dramatically expand both access as well as the range of options to further support not only for financial inclusion but economic growth opportunities as well. In addition to e-money being utilized as a money transfer service, it is now being used as the rails to increase access to a broader variety of financial services, from banking…

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Congratulations to Easypaisa on its 5th year Anniversary!

Easypaisa celebrates 5 years in Pakistan!



On 15th of October 2009, Telenor Pakistan and Tameer Micro Finance Bank partnered to launch Easypaisa – Pakistan’s first Mobile Financial Service. There were only 5,000 ATMs and 10,000 Bank branches in the entire country. Only an estimated 15-20 million of the total 100 million plus adult population had bank accounts. The rest of the under-banked/unbanked people in the country typically resorted to informal services like Hundi/Hawala for Remittances, or borrowing from family/friends for loans or savings.

5 years later, Easypaisa has crossed many important milestones and has a string of achievements behind it. With 50,000+ Easypaisa shops operating across 800 cities in Pakistan, Easypaisa is easily the largest financial service in the country in terms of touch-points. There are an estimated 6 million unique people who use Easypaisa services every month and there are 2.8 million customers who have subscribed to Easypaisa Mobile Accounts and availing the convenience of carrying out their financial services from their Mobile Phones, anywhere, any time. Nearly 400,000 transactions take place on Easypaisa every day and in 2013, Easypaisa moved 1% of Pakistan’s GDP.

In 2012, Easypaisa was declared as the 3rd biggest Mobile Financial Service in the world by CGAP, a unit within the World Bank and in February 2014, amongst more than 200 mobile money services across the world, Easypaisa won the prestigious GSMA Award for the ‘Best Mobile Money Service’ in the world at the Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain. Easypaisa has the largest product portfolio of services for its customers including remittances, payments, savings and insurance and offers ATM cards and IBFT services that work with all banks connected through 1-Link in Pakistan. For more information, please visit:

Easypaisa celebrates 5 years in Pakistan

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Unlocking the potential of Africa


Written by Elliott Holley

Banking Technology

The potential of new technologies to transform financial services in Africa has long been heralded by the likes of Kenya’s M-Pesa and others. But services for corporates have remained relatively under served – until now. From the sands of the Sahara in the north to the Limpopo river which marks the border with South Africa to the south, economic, political and technological changes are emerging that favour new opportunities for banks.

Excluding South Africa and the Arab-Berber countries of North Africa, the continent is home to 880 million inhabitants. Most senior financial services executives that have dealt with the region are familiar with the low penetration of bank accounts across much of the continent. They are also aware of the widespread adoption of mobile phones in virtually every country. For example, 57% of the population in Uganda had a mobile phone subscription in June 2014, while in Zimbabwe the figure is 97%, and in Ghana in West Africa it is 110%, according to figures provided by the World Cellular Information Service.

However, what is less known is the increasing impact of the technology on the corporate side – affecting not just individual consumers, but companies, institutions and even governments. Giant US corporation Cargill is a good example of the new wave of African corporate investors. The company is active across Africa purchasing and distributing grain and other agricultural products, trading in energy, steel and transport, and raising livestock and producing feed, producing food ingredients, for processed foods and industrial use. It also has a large financial services arm which manages financial risks in the commodity markets. Cargill is currently working with Barclays to disburse payments such as salaries and grants to its employees, clients and customers through mobile networks in several African countries, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

“Regulators have helped by having clear guidelines in place, and it is an open environment, meaning that authorities are often open to new players that may not be the traditional banks,” said John Owens, senior policy advisor, digital financial services and financial inclusion policies at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion. “At the same time, public and private uptake of mobile is increasing and there’s an opportunity to leapfrog the traditional brick and mortar services by mobile. How do you connect with people spread out remotely? There are no ATMs and branches, and the cost to put in that kind of infrastructure is quite challenging. Mobile gets around that. Electronic money is an important channel and opportunity for basic transfers and payments. It brings more people into the fold than anything else.”

Barclays is also working with the United Nations in Uganda to disburse salary payments via mobile, which the bank says is a necessary and helpful tool to ensure payments reach more remote areas effectively. The development of mobile wallets in sub-Saharan Africa has a real potential to affect consumer’s lives according to both the bank and its customers. For example, Cargill says it has invested in businesses including cocoa, grain and oilseeds, cotton, food ingredients and animal nutrition that “support African farmers and local agriculture and enable us to provide products and services to customers across the continent and around the world.” In addition, the US corporation says it has partnered with international and local organisations to help improve the education, health and livelihoods of African communities through better access to schools, basic healthcare, clean water and nutrition.

In the recent past, concerns have been raised among the banking industry that the rise of quicker, nimbler firms such as PayPal and micro-lending companies together with the proliferation of mobile devices might conspire to disintermediate traditional banks. The fears were originally stoked by the rise of examples such as M-Pesa, which was owned by telecoms operators Safaricom and Vodafone. However, today banks are just as likely to benefit. For example, Commercial Bank of Africa partnered with Safaricom’s M-Shwari business, which offers a savings account to customers of M-Pesa. The service initially had just 35,000 customers. Within less than a year, the service opened seven million new accounts and became the biggest provider in Kenya.

“They couldn’t have done it without the bank partnering in the background,” said Owens. “Banks are not being disintermediated. Each player has a role. Financial services are being unbundled. Those services are often sold by one firm together with branding, but actually when you look closer you find there is a bank behind it.”

The sense that banks have a role to play is shared by Barclays, which operates in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and the islands Mauritius and Seychelles. Part of the appeal of investing in Africa is the higher returns available compared to the developed world. For example, Chris Kotze, head of corporate transactional services at Barclays Africa estimates that GDP growth can be up to four times higher – around 7-14% in some countries – compared to around 3% at best in the developed markets. He added that intra-Africa trade is picking up. Previously, much of the region’s imports and exports were traded with Europe and India or China. But now African countries are starting to trade a lot more with each other, which creates opportunities to grow the market.

Kotze is responsible for transaction services to corporate clients, which include services such as payments, collections and loans, as well as short term investments, trade finance, letters of credit, guarantees and supply finance. He acknowledges that the level of bank sophistication in these different markets varies widely. For example, only around 81 million adults from a population of 880 million use financial services of any sort, according to research by McKinsey.

In markets such as Kenya, there is a well-developed banking system with perhaps 20 competitive banks and 100 in total, but smaller countries such as Botswana typically feature less competition and many processes are cash-centric and paper based. Retailers have a strong need for physical cash collection and disbursement at the store level, and a lot of trading still happens in cash.

Kotze notes that Kenya is starting to see more card transactions, but card penetration remains low in most places, including countries such as Uganda and Tanzania.

“At this stage a lot of clients are still using electronic banking more to view important balances and a lot of payments happen by cash and cheque still,” he said. “When a corporate is interacting with a bank, a lot of the payments still happen very manually, either through a fax being sent to a bank to process a payment on their behalf, or physical cheques being used to make those payments. Even where we have electronic banking in countries like Tanzania, STP rates are low so you get a file being submitted via electronic banking capabilities and when it reaches some of those banks they physically print it out and then manually process the transactions. It’s a physical environment, both on the client side and the bank side.”

Part of the challenge for much of Africa is the relative lack of infrastructure such as roads, railways, communications and power supplies in many of these countries, which make it difficult and expensive to establish a viable traditional banking network. In addition, Barclays notes that some countries in Africa are very heavily involved in import and export business, while others are much more protected and don’t have advanced trading capabilities.

“Infrastructure remains one of the key constraints,” said Kotze. “Basic infrastructure like roads and railways don’t always exist. It’s sometimes very difficult if you manufacture goods in a certain part of the country to get them delivered and get them to export markets. From a technology perspective, the stability of telecoms infrastructure, the access to bandwidth and even the ability to get electricity and other power supplies to all areas and for it to be very reliable remain key constraints. The very heavy reliance on physical cash is also sometimes a constraint, especially given the difficulty of moving between different areas of the country.”

Fortunately, there are signs of positive change. The Alliance for Financial Inclusion is currently working with regulators and policymakers in an effort to promote access to financial services in Africa. To that end, it has a project called the African Mobile Phone Policy Initiative. According to Owens, the standard of regulation has changed dramatically in the last five years, as several countries introduced policies that support the development of mobile financial services. While he acknowledges that in some countries, “If you want to send money you give it to a bus driver and hope it gets through,” Owens also notes that Tanzania is now surpassing Kenya in terms of mobile money by monthly volume. “Africa is leading this mobile push, and Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are the top three countries in the region,” he said.

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