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> Posted by Nate Gonzalez, Investment Officer, Accion Venture Lab
Last week this blog shared the news that Equity Bank applied for a mobile teleco operating license in Kenya, a development suggesting the bank’s interest in entering the country’s M-Pesa dominated mobile money market. In rapid succession, this weekend Kenya’s two largest telcos, Safaricom (who operates M-Pesa) and Airtel, announced that they are jointly buying-out yuMobile, the third-biggest telco in Kenya, and the most likely player to have partnered with Equity to enable it to enter the country’s telco-led mobile finance space.
> Posted by Center Staff
This edition of Top Picks features posts highlighting trends in identification technology and mobile money, as well as a post on new mobile money research targeting user-centered services design.
Innovations in identification technology, namely biometric identification, are discussed in a new Center for Global Development Blog post. The author indicates that key identification areas worth following are remote authentication, the identification of children, standardization and interoperability, and privacy. The post is framed in the context of identification conferences and events, whose content reflects the diversity of identification technology applications, such as in financial services.
There were 219 mobile money services across 84 countries at the end of 2013, with the number of active accounts growing from 37 million in June 2012 to 60 million in June 2013. Those are a few of the main findings from GSMA’s new MMU State of the Industry Report on Mobile Financial Services for the Unbanked. A new MMU Blog post highlights the report and its key insights. Expanding on MMU State of the Industry reports of previous years, this year’s report covers the new areas of mobile insurance, mobile credit, and mobile savings services.
> Posted by Center Staff
Equity Bank, Kenya’s largest bank by customer base, has applied for a license to operate a mobile telco business, a move that strongly suggests intent to enter the mobile money space. If realized, the bank and its 8 million customers could significantly disrupt M-Pesa’s current domination of the country’s market and help drive competition and innovation.
Given the type of license being sought, Equity Bank would not build a new telecommunications network, but would instead partner with one of the country’s prominent telcos and deploy services using this partner’s infrastructure.
Safaricom’s M-Pesa currently has a commanding hold on mobile money in Kenya with 21 million subscribers, covering roughly 75 percent of the country’s adult population. If Equity Bank’s customers were to subscribe to the in-house mobile money service in question, it would be positioned as the second largest in the country.
We look forward to the decision on Equity’s license and the action to follow.
Image credit: GSMA
> Posted by Richard Leftley, Chief Executive Officer, MicroEnsure
The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. This blog series spotlights financial inclusion efforts around the globe, shares insights from the FI2020 consultative process and highlights findings from “Mapping the Invisible Market.”
Last year a statistic was released claiming that there are 6 billion phones in circulation around the world. It is clear that mobile-based delivery channels are perhaps one of the greatest opportunities in working to achieve human and market development goals, including financial inclusion.
Microinsurance is one of the great beneficiaries of mobile-based payments and service delivery innovations, as shown by the rapid growth of mobile microinsurance (MMI) products from an estimated 20 in 2006 to 84 in 2013. Today much of the growth in microinsurance is through partnerships with mobile network operators that are keen to increase sales and retain customers. But demand side obstacles persist and pose a significant challenge to growth and sustainability. Many products are available that are sound and beneficial, but clients are not picking them up. Why is that?
Over the past nine years we have provided microinsurance to millions of clients via a range of distribution channels including banks and microfinance institutions, SACCOs, cooperatives, and even churches. However, our real breakthrough came when we realized that no one wakes up wanting to buy insurance, but people do wake up worried about the risks they face. Through our work with mobile network operators, we have demonstrated that the mass market will radically change their consumer behavior in return for free insurance that addresses their risk.
Recently I stopped a man in the street and asked him if he wanted to buy life insurance. However hard I tried I could not make the sale, but when I asked him how much money he sent home to his mother every month, he became excited about a product that would keep providing that remittance to his mother if he had an accident and died.
Our ability to provide great microinsurance products is driven by our capacity to consider the needs and attitudes of our clients and then integrate these types of insights about choice and value into each product.
> Posted by Adam Brown, International Development Discourse Group (IDDG) Member
The following post was originally published on the IDDG Blog.
Since 2008, the Afghan mobile phone provider, Roshan, has worked to bring mobile money services to Afghanistan. With the support of USAID, all four of Afghanistan’s major mobile phone providers are currently developing mobile money capabilities. The highly successful rollout of Kenya’s mobile money and banking service, M-Pesa, has spurred a flurry of similar startup efforts – over 72 in 42 countries. Many countries, however, have failed to experience the kind of success that M-Pesa achieved, and Afghanistan is no exception.
While the mobile money program in Afghanistan is in its nascent stages, the factors that helped M-Pesa to succeed are generally lacking. The most important of these are, 1) a dominant mobile carrier; 2) an economy that depends on long distance money transfers; and 3) customer trust in the system. The Afghan mobile phone market is too divided to create the kind of widespread network required to attain the critical mass necessary for a sustainable customer base. Further complicating the issue is the fact that Afghans generally do not rely on remittances, limiting the utility that could draw future users. To fix that, mobile money providers should include banking mechanisms early in their programs instead of tacked on only once a money transfer system is in place. However, trust in banks, especially since the Kabul Bank scandal, may be too low for Afghans to put their money into another bank-like mechanism. While mobile money is not destined to fail in Afghanistan, proponents of mobile banking and USAID should adjust their expectations for success, or at least be ready to address the above issues.
> Posted by Mary Hansen, Organizational Development and Training Associate, Accion
842 million people struggle through the hunger games yearly. The games begin as food and money run low sometime before harvest and last until the first ripe crops. This is better known as los meses flacos, the thin months, in Latin America. Or as I knew it in East Africa, wanjala in Swahili and nyengo yonjala in Chichewa (the hunger season). These recurring hunger games are not state sponsored and the participants do not fight each other to the death, but they do fight individuals, families, or communities to survive. Every day, 25,000 people around the world die from hunger-related causes, including 16,000 children. That’s one child every five seconds.
The regions deeply affected by hunger depend heavily on smallholder farming. Around 75 percent of the world’s poor are smallholder farmers. Half of the world’s undernourished people, including three-quarters of Africa’s malnourished children and the majority of those living in absolute poverty live on small farms.
Personally, I struggle with budgeting when paid twice a month. When I was in the Peace Corps in Malawi and was paid monthly, I struggled even more. Yet, smallholder farmers often receive payment only during harvest, or twice a year. I still do not fully understand how families survive with this income structure, even though I lived in a rural town in Malawi for two years. Yet, this is the reality for many of the 2.5 billion people that depend on smallholder agriculture for their livelihoods.
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI
Electronic payment systems are spreading so rapidly they’ve become a challenge to size up. Payment cards have been around in some form since the early 20th Century, but their outreach is still far from ubiquitous, even in countries like the United States. To get a sense of where we stand with the expansion of modern payment systems, I compiled some recent statistics from around the world.
In the United States, employers are increasingly using electronic payment cards to distribute compensation. As compared to checks that require processing, the cards receive funds immediately, and can be used like any other payment card to make purchases, transfers, and withdrawals. In 2012, more than $34 billion was loaded onto 4.6 million active payroll cards. By 2017, this is expected to grow to $69 billion over 10.8 million cards.
Electronic payments are experiencing rapid outreach in India in part through the government’s Aadhaar identification card initiative. Increasingly banks are accepting the biometric information-backed Aadhaar numbers as adequate Know-Your-Client information, and as part of its financial inclusion report released last week, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Committee on Comprehensive Financial Services for Small Businesses and Low Income Households recommends that every individual over the age of 18 receive an electronic bank account when they’re issued an Aadhaar number. As of December 2013, about half the country’s population had enrolled for the identification cards. The RBI plans to have the entire adult population enrolled in the system by January 2016. Among their utilities, the cards are being used to distribute social benefits of the government’s Direct Benefit Transfer scheme. A recent UBS Securities report estimates that the efficiencies gained from the card-based social benefit system could total up to 1.2 percent of India’s GDP.
> Posted by Dave Grace, Managing Partner, Dave Grace & Associates
This week I received my self-addressed postcard from the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum reminding me of my personal commitment to help ensure the safety of consumers’ savings and rights as they join the financial system. My first reaction was how slow the post is, but on deeper reflection I recognized that the postcard arrived just at a time when I needed a reminder of my commitment.
In addition to the new connections made at the Global Forum, two comments stood out for me; one was rooted in the past and the other in the future.
Remembering the Past
When Michel Khalaf from MetLife described the company’s roots as an insurer for the working class and the legions of agents who went door-to-door collecting weekly premiums of $.05 or $.10 and dispensing financial advice, I instantly understood something important about my grandfather. Until then, I had just thought of him as a MetLife agent in the steel belt towns of the northeastern U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s. He left school at age nine to help the family make ends meet when his own father prematurely passed away. He first worked shoulder-to-shoulder in the coal mines with many other immigrants. His math skills and ability to work across ethnic groups enabled him to leave the mines and become a top agent for MetLife. He knew firsthand how dangerous the mining work was and how a temporary or permanent injury could be a huge setback for these vulnerable families. Once the Great Depression hit and people could not access their deposits in banks, many of his clients turned to my grandfather for financial help. He had some liquidity and became a de facto deposit insurer, paying people what he could and in the process becoming a larger creditor of the illiquid banks.
Anticipating the Future
While Michel Khalaf’s comments helped me piece together my own family history, what stood out more was the collective prediction by attendees in London that the most important story in the next five years will be the presence of a “bank run” on mobile money.
Kate McKee, Senior Advisor at CGAP, reflects on key issues raised during the FI2020 Global Forum’s panel discussion on ‘Why Financial Inclusion is More Important Than We Ever Knew,’ ending with an exciting prediction market from the panelists.
In this panel, which began with an emphasis on behavioral economics opened by Sendhil Mullainathan, co-author of the recently-published book Scarcity (reviewed on this blog by CFI’s Sonja Kelly here), who focused on how the reality of scarcity translates into a “bandwidth tax” on people who constantly live in poverty. Research by Sendhil and others has documented how the constant worry and distraction of living with too little – what Sendhil and his co-author Eldar Shafir refer to as “tunneling,” with its intense focus on making ends meet day-to-day – ultimately, affects poor people’s ability to make good decisions. Basically, this growing body of research shows that when people are in a situation of scarcity, they are not as smart, not as able to resist temptation, and are less likely to be able to make and stick to a plan, as compared to themselves in a time of less scarcity.
This scarcity framework and evidence has potentially powerful consequences for financial inclusion. The panel that followed focused on how scarcity, the bandwidth tax, and tunneling affect the relevance, uptake, and usage of financial services by lower-income people. Tine Wollebekk (Vice President of Telenor Financial Services and Board Chair of Tameer Microfinance Bank, the sponsor of Easypaisa in Pakistan) and Kamal Quadir (Managing Director of bKash in Bangladesh) reflected on the experience of these two fast-growing mobile money service deployments, including insights about customers’ underlying demands and how the mobile wallets and other services are designed to meet them, how to make the offerings intuitive and simple, and how to earn trust from customers new to formal finance. Bill Gajda (Global Head of Strategic Partnerships, Visa) rounded out the panel by bringing in findings from deep consumer research that Visa has supported in additional developing countries, as well as experience with different business models and customer interfaces including cards.
Entry products need to be ‘in the tunnel’
One of the key insights was that the entry product needs to meet a really immediate need. It needs to be ‘in the tunnel’ of what the customer is focused on to meet their day-to-day needs. Obviously mobile telephony is firmly in the tunnel virtually everywhere in the developing world. Person-to-person money transfer has also passed the “tunnel test” of rapid uptake in an increasing number of markets – Kamal noted that he felt the company had reached an important tipping point when “bKash” had become a verb commonly used across Bangladesh. Tine made the point of needing excellent execution and recruiting the right kind of agents that customers will trust, in order for customers not to have extraneous worries that would prevent them from really being able to make decisions.