Launched by telecommunications group Vodafone/Safaricom in 2007, M-Pesa (“pesa” is Swahili for “money”) has become a way of life for 30 million Africans in 10 countries. More than 80% of Kenyans use the service. The network also enjoys market dominance in Tanzania and Uganda.
The ingeniously simple method of money transfers made via cellphone messaging (SMS) has connected many to formal banking systems and enabled opportunities for small business and informal commerce, as well as played a part in helping to eradicate poverty, particularly in rural areas.
In 2016, according to Vodafone, M-Pesa was used in six billion transactions. Additionally, research by Digital Frontiers found a 22% drop in female-headed households living in poverty in areas with access to M-Pesa. The same study noted that the source of income for almost 200,000 women in rural areas shifted from the low-income, labour intensive agricultural sector to more prosperous small business creation. The research also showed an increase in saving and investing money through using the M-Pesa network.
M-Pesa transactions are expected to surpass $1.3-billion (R17-billion) in the next three years, according to research by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
The future of mobile money markets presents both growth opportunities and challenges. Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore told CNN that the network wanted to focus on developing a better user experience, with an eye on increasing the use of smart device technology in Africa compared to standard text-based mobile technology.