PERC, a “think and do tank” advancing financial inclusion through information services, has been effective in addressing credit invisibility by advocating the use of alternative data in credit reporting, including in Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, and the U.S. We invited Michael Turner, PERC’s CEO, to submit an opinion piece, and are publishing the results in a three-part series. Part one can be found here; the following is part two.
While the jury may be out on M-Shwari (see here), the verdict is in on M-Pesa. M-Pesa offers real value to an estimated 14 million disenfranchised and financially excluded Kenyans. Indeed, for many lower-income Kenyans, M-Pesa is not only a payments service, but also a form of insurance. Think of it like an online strategy game. You donate units to members of your group in the belief that they will reciprocate when you request. This same norm operates in Kenya with M-Pesa users, who send spare shillings to friends and family every opportunity they get with the operating belief that if there is ever a need (say their tire pops and they need to pay for a repair) they can send out a request for funds to members of their group and have confidence that their needs will be met. This is a great contribution for a product that former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph called “a gadget” to make phone service stickier.
Another unintended contribution stemming from M-Pesa is the gradual building of a non-financial payment transactions database at Safaricom. Practice and research from around the world proves that this data is highly predictive of consumer and small business credit risk. The collection and use of this data could be an extremely useful tool to drive meaningful financial inclusion in Kenya. Safaricom Financial Services fully realizes this, and like so many other mobile network operators around the world, moved to limit access to this data to themselves and their bank partners.