The Mobile Wallet in Africa is maturing fast. The question is whether it is maturing too fast and will leave the people that it was designed for behind.
The success of mobile money in Africa is well documented and impressive. The number of Kenyan adults who use mobile money now stands at 75 percent, up from 41 percent in 2009. This equates to 11.5 million people. International deals are now being struck on a regular basis to open up the opportunities for those at home or overseas. The latest is a deal with Skrill, which allows the diaspora to transfer money to Kenya, using only the person’s full name and mobile number. An SMS confirms the transaction. Overseas remittances reached $1.3 billion last year.
A similar mobile money offering courtesy of Econet in Zimbabwe already has 3.5 million users and is unlocking the money flow across the country. Last October, Econet announced Ecocash Save, a virtual mobile savings account based on the same principle.
As m-Pesa and m-Pesa look alikes take off across Africa, close behind the wave come the signs of maturity. An association of agents has been formed in Zimbabwe so that they can be part of the process of development and regulation.
The rise of m-Pesa is also driving the adoption of credit cards and bank accounts, pushing the whole eco-system into the next phase. But they might be in danger of going too far, of growing too fast. Kenyan banks are required to switch to the new EMV cards on 31 March, which are deemed to be more secure. Fraud, obviously, is a big issue with a loose network of agents across the country and little ID. But such a move could make it difficult for other, advanced countries. A recent trip by our good friends at Mobile Payments Today nearly went badly wrong because of EMV cards in Germany. Even though the visitors from the US had taken the precaution of getting EMV cards, they still needed cash to get through the trip. How much more so if they visited Africa?
Whether we can manage the multi-speed development of different payments solutions – across multiple continents – we are still seeing innovation spring from the huge success that m-Pesa has turned out to be. With the mobile being the screen of choice or necessity throughout Africa, it is being used for more and more applications – mobile payroll, mobile bill payments and mobile collections. Not to mention advertising, special offers and brand awareness campaigns.
We should keep an eye on developments – we might pick up some ideas.