Monday, June 15, 2009

Africa Banking Bypasses Bankers

Over one billion people in the developing world have access to a mobile phone, but do not have a bank account. It is estimated by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) that the number will to rise to 1.7 billion by 2012.

This creates an enormous opportunity for mobile banking as bank face enough problems back home let alone make the investment to set up a banking infrastructure.

One of Africa's first mobile banking system, M-Pesa, was launched in Kenya in March 2007 and has now expanded to include countries such as Tanzania and Afghanistan and is planning to launch in India, Egypt and South Africa. Through a network of more than 7,000 agents, the people can make deposits and get cash from a network made up mostly of mostly shopkeepers, with users authorising payments on their mobile phone using a Pin code.

The service has also expanded to include Safaricom, East Africa's biggest mobile operator and others such as South Africa's MTN and Kuwait's Zain are piloting similar services.

The lesson this teaches is that not everyone follows the same technology evolution. Sometimes those that appear to be far behind can leapfrog over a step change and in some cases even overtake others purely because they have less baggage, restrictions and maybe have to do it differently.

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