The mobile banking phenomenom is one of the more exciting and unpredictable offshoots of the cell phone revolution in poor countries. People who until very recently had no phones and no bank accounts are now transferring money by phone.
M-banking is most pronounced in the Phillippines, where it started, but it’s heating up in Africa. Vodafone in conjuntion with Safaricom in Kenya recently launched M-PESA (“mobile money” in Swahili), initially with the intention of streamlining microfinance operations by allowing loans dispersal and repayment by cell phones. In three months, the service has attracted 175,000 subscribers, who aresigning up at the rate of 2,500 a day.
Nick Hughes, Vodafone’s head of international payments, told The New York Times (In Poorer Nations, Cellphones Help Open up Microfinancing):
“The idea was to reduce the cost of loan disbursal and recovery, but what we found was that customers were using it for person-to-person transfers.”
Customers don’t need a bank account, but can load money into their phones by paying cash at selected outlets, including grocery stores and gas stations. They then text money (“stored value”) to other cell phones.
The Vodafone/Safaricom m-banking case study is fully detailed in Innovations journal (MIT Press), in the current issue (M-PESA: Mobile Money for the â€œUnbankedâ€ Turning Cellphones into 24-Hour Tellers in Kenya). The June 28th Economist has a piece on M-PESA called Dial M for Money. And, of course, there Chapter 9 in my book, Cell Phone as Wallet, which tracks the evolution of mobile banking.Â
The Times’ article (above) also describes the way new technologies, including fingertip authentication, are being used by microlenders to extend the reach and efficiency of their lending operations.