It has become mainstream to think that digital technologies will have a significant role to play in addressing the financial inclusion challenge in developing countries. This may be so, but if all we in the financial inclusion community do is merely add the mobile phone (or the smart card) to our stock of dearly-held beliefs, we will accomplish little. Technology will not work additively; if technology-based models work it will be because they will have changed pretty much everything. I’m not saying that everything will change: I’m just saying that that should be the bet.
In recent years, mobile money has attracted sustained attention in ways that few other mobile services have. And for good reason: from East Africa to Pakistan, the Philippines and elsewhere, mobile money services are growing and diversifying into fields such as savings and insurance. Kenya-based M-PESA remains the global leader, and the benefits from increased market efficiency, consumer risk-sharing and third party utilizations are significant. But mobile money can no longer be considered an isolated phenomenon, and as it matures, a variety of new challenges and benefits will influence its developmental potential.
Although it is notoriously difficult to make predictions about such a fast-moving and wide-ranging industry, in the new edition of Information & Communication for Development 2012, we highlight some emerging issues in mobile money that will likely become relevant in the upcoming years.
These are exciting times in the world of financial inclusion. In the past few years, policymakers and private-sector leaders have made some bold and innovative moves to modernize financial infrastructures and expand financial access. Mobile money products have seen impressive growth in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa; bank agents are expanding access to underserved populations; and governments are increasingly disbursing payments via formal bank accounts.
Nevertheless, large challenges remains in the financial inclusion agenda: 76 percent of adults – almost 500 million people - in Sub-Saharan Africa remain outside the formal financial system and 36% of these unbanked report that having a formal account is too expensive. To continue moving forward we need to assess financial behavior and understand where the challenges and opportunities lie for the future. To do that, we need high-quality, multi-dimensional, comparable financial inclusion data.
And so, in April the World Bank Development Research Group released the Global Findex, an individual-level dataset that measures how adults in 148 economies save, borrow, make payments, and manage risk. The Global Findex is just one of the foundations of the G20 Basic Set of Financial Inclusion Indicators that was formally proposed by the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) in Los Cabos this week.
The mobile phone has become a useful tool in tackling the financial access deficit in many countries. M-PESA in Kenya has shown that adoption curves typical of new information-based technologies (radio,TV, mobiles, internet) can be applied to financial services. Yet M-PESA-like mobile payment schemes have only scratched the surface of what is possible. The typical mobile money user still uses it only a couple of times a month.
In a recent paper, Colin Mayer of the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and I argue that the real power of mobile will come when it is seen not only as a mechanism for reducing access costs but also for building new types of banking experiences. Indeed, the agenda needs to shift from access to use.
Editor's Note: Michael Joseph is the World Bank Group's first fellow and was previously the CEO of Safaricom.
Mobile money has gone viral. In Kenya there are now more than 15 million mobile money users, which is equivalent to three in four adults. The company I was heading until last November, Safaricom has developed the world’s largest mobile money platform M-Pesa, which is being used by more than 14 million Kenyans. Over the last three years the growth of mobile money has been exponential. In December we reached a new threshold when the equivalent of US$ 1 billion was transferred. This is more than Western Union has transferred in all of 2010 globally! This has changed the lives of Kenyans—it created new jobs, new businesses and new opportunities for millions of people.