Three years after Safaricom launched its pioneer m-Pesa service in Kenya, African operators are still world leaders in the provision of mobile money services. The seemingly simple service, allowing unbanked people to transfer money by text, has allowed countless ordinary people to send money to their loved ones and business partners without hassle, while providing Safaricom with a unique tool to improve customer loyalty. The service was so successful that backer Vodafone launched it in Tanzania, Afghanistan, and announced last week that Vodacom was to launch it in South Africa in partnership with a local bank.
More operators have joined the trend. In January this year, Zain became “the biggest mobile commerce operator in the world in terms of geographical coverage”, by extending its Zap service to Malawi, Niger and Sierra Leone (after starting in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda). Orange is also addressing the market, with its Orange Money service in West Africa. In North Africa, Maroc Telecom launched MobiCash last month, and Egypt-based group Orascom is partnering with Western Union for a mobile money service.
It is not only large operator groups ‘banking’ on the market: small, Africa-based companies are providing services which could shake up the offer of financial services to consumers. Two interesting examples are to be found in West Africa. Moneyboxafrica, based in Nigeria, is a new savings and payment system based on a scratch card and enabled by any mobile phone. In Sierra Leone, Splash Mobile Money allows clients using Zain, Africell and Comium networks to send money to other mobile users by registering to the Splash system. The Managing Directors of both companies (Adeniyi Elumaro of Moneyboxafrica and Michael Foley of Splash) will join the Mobile Money Panel at the forthcoming West & Central Africa Com congress (Dakar, Senegal, 16-17 June) and will discuss their visions of how to deliver on customers’ needs for better banking services.
The subject of mobile money will feature prominently in some events of this year’s Com World Series. A special session is to be dedicated to the subject at the leading pan-African event AfricaCom, with presentations and a panel discussion from operators, solutions vendors, financial institutions and regulators. In the Middle East event (Dubai, 30th November – 1st December), the topic will be covered as part of the value-added services stream, looking at the mobile money opportunity in markets where needs are different from those found in Africa: on the one hand, mobile money transfer is a valuable service for the large immigrant workforce wishing to send money home to their families, while on the other hand the high end of the customer base will be looking at more advanced m-commerce services. At Americas Com (Rio, Brazil, 30th June – 1st July), a panel discussion will address the challenges and opportunities for the mobilization of payments and remittances in Latin America.
The discussions will certainly cover how the services are adapted to different market conditions, regulatory environments, and distribution networks. It will be interesting to see if and how mobile money services will evolve from simple money transfers to more advanced mobile commerce services.