Why Would Africa Need Cryptocurrencies when it Has Mobile Money?

M-Pesa is responsible for financial inclusion of over 28.3 million Kenyans. For nearly two decades, the mobile money enterprise has transformed financial interaction in East Africa’s Kenya. 

A study by Pew Research Centre revealed over 160,000 Kenyans in the United Kingdom sent a total of  £457 million to friends and relatives in Africa. 

Statistics from the World Bank also indicate Kenya receives a net remittance volume of over $2 billion annually, and these numbers are still growing.  

The transactions were through M-Pesa and in some way reveals the power of mobile-payment in cross-border remittances.  

Not only has M-Pesa shaped how individuals transfer money – but reconstructed the banking and telecommunication industry in the country. 

The mobile platform is also extending its services to other countries in East and West Africa. Elsewhere are burgeoning cryptocurrency startups with the promise of extending financial inclusion to unbanked populations. 

These startups believe Africa is a growth hub for the blockchain and are hopeful to bank its people. 

But hasn’t mobile-money, through M-Pesa, proved the continent is already expanding financial services to its unbanked populations. And the very fact, it’s working more rapidly and easily? 

Let’s have a look at who Africa’s financially excluded populations are? Perhaps these might help us understand whether Africa needs cryptocurrency when it has mobile money.  

69% of the world’s adult population have a sort of bank account. Theoretically, wide unbanked populations exist in developing nations. 

However, China – an economic powerhouse- leads with the highest number of unbanked adults being at 224 million.  Other countries facing a banking crisis include Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil. 

According to PWC, digital money transfers are a driver for the growth of Nigeria’s economy. Remittances from abroad alone have grown from $18.37 billion to $34.89 billion between 2009 and 2023. China records the highest adoption rate of mobile payment. Over 81.1% of its population own a smartphone. 

Besides Kenya, there is also China, South Korea, Sweden, Denmark, and India recording the largest mobile payment usage.  These countries witness immense benefits from the use of mobile money platforms, these benefits include: 

Benefits of Mobile Money

1.Fast and easy access to banking services 

A country/region could have several banking institutions but lack adequate localized branches to delocalize banking services. For example, the nearest bank branch in Kenya requires at least half an hour’s travel for over half of Kenya’s population. 

The risk of theft is also prevalent in case an individual is going to deposit/withdraw huge amounts of money. Also, remember most merchants in Africa do not accept credit/debit cards.  In such emerging economies as Kenya’s, the highest percentage of people will own a smartphone rather than a bank account.

However, some countries such as Bangladesh are expanding their financial inclusion through extending agent-banking services to rural areas.  This method has increased the number of financially included individuals in the country by 7%. As a result, Bangladesh adults owning a bank account make up 47% of the entire population.

Bangladesh’s financial inclusion program can have over 75% of its population accessing banking services. Unfortunately, only 17% of its population own mobile phones. Countries like Kenya which are winning in mobile payment record high mobile ownership numbers – with over 80% of Kenya’s adult population having a mobile phone. 30% of these populations own a smartphone while the rest own a basic mobile phone.

The advantage of a mobile phone is its ability to bring banking services into your hand.

But don’t you think accessibility to the blockchain would require a smartphone rather than the basic mobile phones? Which would make it even harder for financially disadvantaged populations to gain access. 

2.Improving Livelihoods

Experts associated access to mobile payment with impacting the lives of low-to-middle income populations. 

For example, people can quickly access micro-finance loans and safeguard valuable income-sources through mobile-saving and micro-insurance.

M-Pesa introduced M-Shwari – a feature that enables its users to save or borrow loans through their phones. A service such as M-Kopa allows Kenya’s most rural populations to pay for electricity and solar energy. 

3.Improving Economies 

What began as a simple solution for availing financial services has become a key driver for transforming millions of lives.

The World Bank estimates India saves at least 1% of its GDP due to mobile payment efficiencies. The government of Mexico saves $1.2 billion annually after digitizing its payment infrastructure to accommodate mobile-phones. 

4.Growing Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) 

Lack of working credit/debit card services in developing nations makes it costly to conduct business-to-client and business-to-business transactions. 

This greatly affects growing businesses. The entry of mobile phone payment is helping such businesses avoid the risk, cost, and challenge of making cash transactions. 

In 2018, M-Pesa came up with Fuliza, a feature that enables m-pesa users to stretch out minor payment transactions through credit. In East Africa alone, micro-credit services operating through Mobile payment platforms have lent small loans to nearly 1 million Small-to-Medium-Sized enterprises. 

5.Bridging the Gender Gap in Mobile-Payment 

Mobile money is expanding the options of occupation among women in developing nations.  

Deploying microfinance services through mobile-payment is making it possible for millions of women to take part in;  subsistence farming; small businesses; and retail sales.

Instead of taking the risk of walking long distances to pay bills, deposit money, or make purchases, women can now conduct transactions at the touch of a button. 

Mobile transactions are also fast. It takes seconds to transfer money from a PayPal account to M-pesa. Costs are also low and depend on prevailing market exchange rates. 

Bottom-line

Cryptocurrency transaction fees are also high, especially when sending the most popular coins, Bitcoin and Ethereum. It’s important to exploit the heights of blockchain and how the technology is improving financial transactions. However, I feel investors and Innovators across Africa have not yet realized the full benefits of mobile payments. 

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