– William Shakespeare, and to a lesser extent, Visa Mobile
Nowhere is (the power of mobile payments) more apparent than in developing economies where mobile penetration outpaces bank card availability. Using existing mobile devices to access and transfer funds, make payments, pay bills or top-up wireless air time, mobile financial services represent a “leapfrog” technology in these under served regions.
According to Eagle, local incumbent Safaricom had started a minute-sharing service for its prepaid cell phone plans a few years back. The idea was to enable users to send minutes to family members in rural areas, who weren’t otherwise able to buy prepaid phone cards. However, Kenyans quickly came up with other uses. “Lots and lots of people were using it as a surrogate for currency,” Eagle said. “[You] could literally pay for taxi cab rides using cell phone credit.”
Safaricom realized a huge opportunity and started a mobile payment service called M-PESA. To call M-PESA a success would be an understatement, according to Eagle. “Within about a year, (Safaricom) became the biggest bank in East Africa.” Today you can use your phone to pay for cab rides and electricity, to get money out of ATMs without owning an ATM card or even having a traditional bank account.
Will your mobile phone service replace your checking account? Ask Mr. Eagle (or Mr. Shakespeare).