Okay, we're three days into the era of the iPhone. While my first-hand experience playing with one over the weekend was exciting (I'm intrigued but will keep my beat-up Treo 650 for awhile, thanks very much), there's another nascent development in cell phones that could potentially be a much bigger deal over time: mobile (cell) phone banking and its potential to increase access to financial services for poor people.
At CGAP, we're partnering with companies like Globe Telecom to explore how poor rural communities might be better served with appropriate, responsible services through mobile phones. As this effort gets underway, we're also taking a look at how regulators in several countries, including the Philippines, are dealing with mobile phone banking. Here are some highlights from our preliminary assessment of Pakistan's banking regulations when it comes to so-called branchless banking:
• Several mobile network operators (MNOs) have started developing concrete proposals to offer mobile phone payments and banking directly;
• Improving access to financial services features highly on the agenda of the Government of Pakistan;
• Key regulatory issues that may help "branchless banking" increase access to financial services are (a) allowing the use of agents (such as retail shops) outside bank branches; (b) easing account opening (both on-site and remotely) while maintaining adequate "know your customer" standards; and (c) permitting a range of players to participate in payment service provision and e-money issuance (especially MNOs), enabling innovation from multiple parties.
In addition to Pakistan, CGAP is working on similiar assessments in Brazil, India, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, and Russia. So, more to come...