In a global population of 7 billion people, a staggering 2 billion adults do not have access to a bank account. And if cash-in-hand is your only option it severely limits what you can do.
Seven years ago mobile wallets were launched in an effort to change all this. Mobile operator Vodafone introduced M-Pesa, a mobile wallet designed to enable people with a mobile phone to send money to anyone with an M-Pesa account. And you didn’t need a bank account to use it.
At Azimo, we recently partnered with Vodafone Romania to extend the reach of M-PESA to the region, where banking penetration is lowest in the European Union but it’s a service that really took off in African in countries like Kenya first. Until a few years ago, cash was king in Kenya. People would often send money long distances in envelopes with trusted friends. Sometimes they even used bus drivers as couriers. So there was a clearly an urgent need for a change. And M-PESA has been that change. Now sending money is as easy as making a few taps on your phone.
Setting up the service is simple, too – just a matter of taking cash to an authorised outlet and showing them ID and an account PIN. In exchange your phone account is credited with the correct amount, which can then be used to send money to just about anybody with an M-PESA account. Converting any outstanding digital balance from your phone to cash is just as easy.
And M-PESA is not just limited to the latest smartphones. It’s been designed to work on even the most basic mobile phone, granting the ability to send money to almost all Kenyan citizens. But technology aside, perhaps the most radical thing about M-PESA is that it can be used by the 75% of Kenyans who don’t have a bank account. So it’s easy to see how big a difference the service can make. That it’s been a success can be seen from the fact that since 2007 there has been an exponential increase in registered mobile money users (1.3 million in 2007 to 24 million in 2014) resulting in over $190 billion of mobile money sent in 2014 (source: Enabling Mobile Money Policies in Kenya). That also equates to an steep rise in peoples disposable income: 5% to 35%.
M-Pesa’s ability to reach the unbanked has made it the most successful mobile phone-based financial service in the developing world. And its growth has undoubtedly been helped by the fact that you don’t need an internet connection to use it, just a phone signal. So in countries like Kenya, where the internet infrastructure isn’t advanced, it’s a real game-changer. Everything from paying bills to sending money, no longer means a day-long queue outside the relevant utility office, after a long wait to use an ATM machine. Now it all can be done in minutes, on the phone, just by pressing a few keys.
M-Pesa is just one of the many ways mobiles will change the worlds relationship with money. Our CEO Michael Kent put it best: Mobile money will soon replace bank branches, leapfrog retail banking and fast-track financial inclusion in an unprecedented way.
Helping to make financial inclusion a reality is a core part of our mission. M-Pesa has been integrated into the Azimo platform since 2013, and now 80% of our transactions to Kenya are through M-Pesa. Our latest partnership with Vodafone Romania is another step forward in that effort, as we’ve extended the reach of mobile wallet’s like M-PESA to a new part of the world.