It would not only benefit rural dwellers but also their fellow countrymen who live in urban areas. From micro transactions such as purchasing a cinema ticket to those on a larger scale such as paying for white goods, m-commerce will enable people living in African cities to make the transactions and payments necessary for everyday living at the push of a button, without the need for cash.
In recent months a couple of forward thinking African start-ups have launched services looking to disrupt the way people currently pay for products. With banks and mobile networks spending huge sums to secure a piece of the mobile money action, these technology companies are already thinking of the future, building online shopping cart plug-ins that are accessible via mobiles and have the capability to process mobile payments. The key factor driving this innovation is payment - how to make it easier for people to pay for goods and services in markets, restaurants and cinemas as well as online without the need to resort to cash.
As with mobile banking, Kenya is leading the way. For example, KopoKopo operates a platform that builds on top of M-Pesa to allow small and medium businesses move to accept mobile money payments at the shop till. Others like Kenya’s Mpayer, take the process one step further, allowing real world transactions as well as payments on the web and via web-enabled phones. It is not difficult to imagine the impact of such technology on small businesses, farmers, craftsmen, and food or beverage retailers.
But Kenya isn’t the only place where mobile money is trying to hit critical mass. In Nigeria, established firms likes the UK’s Monitise are beginning to make inroads, while one of the recent success stories is a relatively new upstart, Paga, backed by Silicon Valley money and well known investment funds.
The core business for Paga is its mobile money transfer service; however those behind it realise the importance of using their platform to facilitate payment for goods and services, and are signing up merchants across Nigeria to use the platform to receive payments. As with the Kenyan start-ups, the suspicion is that the company will pivot to focus more on consumer-to- merchant payments as opposed to peer-to-peer transfers.
Intel-backed Ghanaian technology firm Rancard Solutions and mobile operator Bharti Airtel also recently launched a mobile platform that allows their customers to buy and sell products via their phones. Furthermore, Airtel customers can also pay for purchases using their mobile wallet. Whether this will take off or not remains to be seen, but it is a welcome step in the right direction.
I believe these kinds of innovations are just the beginning. In the coming years, we will see all kinds of new services being built and even more piggy-backing on them to create new businesses and value in Africa.
Then Africa will truly deserve the title of the home of mobile money.