M-Pesa, the world’s largest mobile money network, has enabled millions of Africans to access secure and reliable banking solutions. It was a groundbreaking idea for the continent and is now being used as a model for similar systems around the world.
Mobile money markets are very popular in Africa. They offer simple and secure ways to pay and transfer funds using text-based mobile technology. M-Pesa, the industry leader, is celebrating 13 years of dominance in countries such as Kenya and Uganda.
Launched by telecoms group Vodafone/Safaricom in 2007, M-Pesa (‘pesa’ means ‘money’ in Swahili) has become a way of life for 30 million Africans in 10 countries. More than 80% of Kenyans use the service. The network also dominates the market in Tanzania and Uganda.
The ingeniously simple method of money transfer through SMS exchange has connected many to formal banking systems and opened up opportunities for small businesses and informal trade. The technology has also played a role in eradicating poverty, especially in rural areas.
The system uses simple texting technology available in older mobile phones. While better mobile banking is the norm around the world, the simplicity of M-Pesa is that customers do not need bank accounts to use the network. Forex trading in Kenya using M-Pesa is growing exponentially. M-Pesa now includes not only money transfers and other standard banking procedures, but also health services, access to international money markets and long-term lending.
In 2016, six billion transactions were made using M-Pesa, according to Vodafone. In addition, a Digital Frontiers study found that the number of female-headed households (especially in poorer areas) with access to M-Pesa has declined by 22%. The same study noted that the source of income for nearly 200,000 women in rural areas has shifted from the low-income, labour-intensive agricultural sector to the creation of more prosperous small businesses. The study also showed an increase in savings and investment through the use of the M-Pesa network.
The future of mobile money markets presents both growth opportunities and challenges. Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore told CNN that the network wanted to focus on improving the user experience. In doing so, the main goal is to increase the use of smart device technology in Africa compared to standard text-based mobile technology. As with any innovative product, one of the key objectives is to develop more revolutionary mobile financial services.