Platforms like Venmo, Simple and Square are starting to catch on in the developed world. While start ups, tech giants, and financial institutions are falling over themselves to introduce digital payment services in the developing world, mobile money is routinely used in countries like Kenya…
Africa has spearheaded the boom in digital payments.
Launched in 2007, Kenya’s M-Pesa system has become the poster child for mobile financial transactions. In 2013, approximately $24 billion in mobile transactions accounted for more than half the country’s GNP. The service expanded so quickly that the number of registered accounts currently surpasses the number of adult Kenyans.
Neighboring Tanzania leads the continent in total transaction value, and at least 8 countries in Africa have more mobile accounts than traditional bank accounts.
Asia and the Middle East are catching up. Telenor Pakistan, one of the largest mobile operators in the world, launched Easypaisa, the country’s first mobile banking service, in 2009. Within five years, Easypaisa had processed more than 100 million transactions with a total value of over $1.4 billion. Today, it’s the third largest mobile money service in the world. Six million customers can do almost all their banking on the mobile devices. If they need assistance, they can go to one of 25,000 Easypaisa shops in 750 cities and towns across the country.
On the other side of India, Dutch Bangla Bank opened the first mobile banking service in Bangladesh in 2011. At the time only about 13% of the country’s 160 million citizens had bank accounts, but close to half of its mostly rural population used mobile phones. As in Pakistan, the service employs thousands of agents around the country to help users open accounts and handle cash services, at a significantly lower costs than normal bank branches.
In Nepal, Laxmi Bank Limited launched the Mobile Khata payment system in 2012. The name comes from a traditional ceremonial scarf in Tibetan Buddhism that symbolizes compassion and purity. The service works with every provider in Nepal and was one of the first to be interoperable between multiple financial institutions.
Other countries throughout the developing world have seen the arrival of successful mobile money services including Guatemala, Iran, Mexico and even Somalia.
People use these mobile operators to transfer funds between people, merchants or utilities. They can also withdraw cash from ATMs or receive government allowances.
What’s more, mobile banking systems empower women, who are traditionally even more excluded from the formal banking system than men, according to the World Bank. Digital banking also makes it easier to save for routine expenses like school supplies and major events such as childbirth.
However, there’s still a significant gender gap in access to mobile banking. Women in developing countries are still less likely to own mobile phones than men. For example, 44% of Bangladeshi women have mobile phones compared to 72% of men. The gap represents a potential $170 billion market over the next five years, according to the GSMA, an association of mobile operators. In addition women tend to be more responsible in their spending and invest more in their families, prioritizing things like education, nutrition and healthcare, said Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation. This has major economic implications to their communities.
A new mobile savings platform called Vumi, launched in South Africa in August, is designed to work on any network or mobile-money provider — and empower women at the same time. The pilot project is part of a nationwide program aimed at encouraging young girls to save money through their phones. Instead of relying on slow and expensive bank or wire transfer networks to transmit money, it uses a low-cost, open-source protocol called Stellar.
Today, platforms like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, Venmo, Simple and Square are starting to catch on in the developed world. In the developing world, these systems have the potential to improve the lives of 2.5 billion adults by allowing them to transfer funds, pay off loans and save for the future.
This feels like just the beginning. A decade ago we had no smart phones, no apps, and no mobile economy. Imagine where we’ll be in 10 years.