Three recent developments signal that mobile money may be on the verge of crossing the size-and-scale threshold where it can provide both increased convenience and security from theft to the unbanked around the world and distinct and significant revenue streams for operators.
First, Bharti Airtel and MTN announced a deal allowing convenient and affordable money transfer between their customers in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. This is the first cross-border mobile-to-mobile remittance service in West Africa. MTN spokesman Pieter Verkade stated, “MTN has reached a great level of adoption of Mobile Money in Ivory Coast, and Airtel has done the same in Burkina Faso. With a sizable community of Bukinable working in Ivory Coast and sending money back to their home country, the partnership will greatly enhance the Mobile Money service for both countries.” Global remittance payments—an area where mobile money has yet to take off—are estimated at US $534 billion per year; if mobile operators can tap into even a moderate proportion of that, it could prove a significant new source of revenue.
Second, French multinational operator Orange announced that its mobile money network had received its 10 millionth customer. Orange rolled out its mobile money service in 2008, and since then it has become available in 13 African and Middle Eastern countries. In 2013, over US $3 billion passed through the service. While it is not the largest mobile money network (MTN has 14.8 million users in 14 countries), this news demonstrates that mobile money is a focus point for large global operators, which have the ability to make it a truly functional payment form, in the way that users of VISA, MasterCard, or American Express have come to expect.
Third, Qatari operator Ooredoo announced that it joined the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association’s (GSMA) Mobile Money Interoperability program. This program focuses on helping operators launch and scale interoperable mobile money services through the sharing of best practices and provides regulatory support. Its members represent 582 million mobile connections across 48 Middle Eastern and African countries and include Bharti Airtel, Etisalat, Millicom, MTN, Orange, STC, Vodafone and Zain.
While none of these items by itself represents a major leap forward for mobile money, collectively they are signs that the platform is picking up the backers and scale needed to reach launch velocity in emerging markets—that is, the point at which it becomes so widespread that the conveniences of having and using mobile money outweigh any difficulties associated with it. There are still many challenges to the adoption and success of mobile money, but it appears to have momentum on its side.
The above item appeared in a recent issue of The Tarifica Alert, a weekly resource that analyzes noteworthy developments in the telecoms industry from around the world. To access all of the latest articles and issues: http://www.tarifica.com/TarificaAlert.aspx