Partnering with Sybase, MobiKash Afrika launched a pilot of the first intra-region, mobile network- agnostic and bank-agnostic mobile commerce solution for sub-Saharan Africa in September. The pilot is in Kenya, which is already a much-quoted reference country for banking the unbanked, due to Safaricom’s successful M-Pesa solution, and 63 percent of households owning a mobile phone according to the 2009 census. (Compare that to the 3.6 percent with computers.)
It’s exciting news for a few reasons. First, mBanking is real, live and available today, and the Sybase 365 mobile commerce platform is on the leading edge. Second, due to MobiKash being operated by an independent third party, it’ll be available to all users irrespective of their Mobile Network Operator, leading to a greater network effect.
Third, and most important, MobiKash will provide a range of banking services to people who have never had access before. Less than 10 percent of Africans currently participate in formal banking for a variety of reasons. On the one side, banks have been unable to maintain the profitability of services to this population via standard channels. On the other, the target customers distrust traditional banks and lack efficient transportation to branches that are few and far between. Using the new service, Africans will be able to conduct commerce from their mobile phones, be it purchasing goods and services, securing loans, and (of course) traditional banking.
MobiKash plans to expand to other African countries in the near future, where mobile adoption rates are growing rapidly, and provide intra-country services where possible.
This mBanking revolution (if you’ll allow me the term) to bank the unbanked is happening all over the world. Internationally, the media has written quite a bit about it, but there hasn’t been as much coverage in the U.S. We seem generally less interested over here, and I don’t know why. Maybe we think we don’t have an unbanked population here, but we do.
A January 2009 FDIC survey reported that approximately 7.7 percent (9 million) U.S. households are unbanked, meaning they don’t have a checking or savings account. Another 18 percent on top of that (20 million) U.S. households are underbanked, meaning they rely on alternative financial services such as check cashers, loan sharks and pawnbrokers.
So why, when the vast majority of Americans own mobile phones — something like 90 percent — and mCommerce technology doesn’t require high-end devices, aren’t we doing more about it? The MobiKash service enables customers to access and conduct business with any financial institution via any mobile phone service provider, and includes integration into networks of ATMs, POS terminals, EPOS systems, the Internet and local agents. It would be great to see lessons learned in Asia and Africa being applied into the U.S. market. Aren’t the issues—banks unable to provide services at a profit, customers distrust and lack of transportation—the same? At present, we see a lot of activity in Latin America, but not yet in the U.S. We expect it to change as early as next year, with mobile carriers that serve the unbanked through their prepay offerings leading the way, and some banks putting some trials into the market, looking to see if mobility gives them the lower-cost channel they need to serve the unbanked market.
A service like MobiKash, which allows customers to pay bills, send money, manage their accounts and transfer funds could do a lot to create a gateway into the mainstream financial system. It could help the unbanked right here at home build savings, improve their credit score, secure lower rates for loans and fees for transactions, and reduce a source of personal stress.
This is not only a huge business opportunity, but also a huge do-the-right-thing opportunity. Who’s with me?
Read more on MobiKash Afrika: http://www.sybase.com/detail?id=1083733