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It’s been widely heralded as the medium for Africa: the mobile phone is giving people on the continent a means to do everything from accessing the internet to paying their bills. And it’s often the only way to transact for a large chunk of the population: while the majority of people in high income economies have an account with a financial institution, only 24% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa, and 18% in Northern Africa and the Middle East do. But mobile payment systems may be making things easier for the millions of people without a bank account or access to ATMs or desktop online banking services.
According to the World Bank, 647-million consumers in Africa do not have a formal bank account — but reports suggest that there are around 750-million mobile subscribers on the continent. The majority of citizens in countries like Nigeria still visit a bank teller to transfer money, and some 63% of transfers are done through informal means. It’s not difficult to see the potential.
The environment in Africa has lead to a rapid uptake of mobile money services (some more than others) and consumers are being given new options all the time as more players enter the market. Visa-owned mobile financial platform provider Fundamo has powered three new services in Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe so far this year, bringing it to a total of 27 deployments in 19 countries across Africa.
“Earlier this year the industry celebrated a decade of banking the unbanked. Mobile money providers are rapidly diversifying and consumers are demanding access to more sophisticated services,” said Fundamo CEO Hannes van Rensburg. “One thing hasn’t changed – Africa, the cradle of mobile financial services, continues to lead the world with a swath of new deployments in 2012.”
One of the countries where Fundamo systems have launch recently is Nigeria. A recent study in the country found that Nigerians would primarily use mobile services to save money for their family (59%) and pay utility bills (58%). Some mobile money systems, like First Bank Nigeria’s platform FirstMonie, already allow them to do this, by offering services like utility payments (airline tickets, electric and insurance), cash withdrawal from an ATM without a bank card and payment for goods.
Earlier this year, Celpay International entered the mobile money market in Uganda and Zimbabwe in partnership with operators and banks, further illustrating the trend in mcommerce on the continent. And a number of the financial mobile services aren’t run by telecoms: nearly a third of the services Fundamo supports in Africa are delivered by providers other than mobile operators. According to van Rensburg, the launch of these mobile money services bodes well for the future, and “highlights the growing number of service providers competing to meet consumer demand in Africa.”
“A great deal of credit must go to governments across Africa which are driving the principles of financial inclusion and creating regulatory environments in which services like these can flourish as part of grander ‘cashless society’ plans,” said van Rensburg. “We expect to see a host of exciting government schemes gain ground in the next year.”