African Banks not offering desperately needed mobile solutions

In Africa, banking the unbanked remains a pressing need. Roughly 700-million Africans are financially excluded – denied economic citizenship.

Banked: Mobile banking apps favour urban people with access to smartphones, such as this customer of Sidian Bank in the Kenyan bank’s headquarters in Nairobi. Picture: REUTERSDiscussions on the issue raise the same question, time and again: why aren’t traditional banks offering mobile solutions to potential customers who desperately need them?

The American Bankers Association claims it costs between $150 and $250 to open an individual bank account through traditional channels. Over more than a decade, around the world, it has been proven that alternative, disruptive technology such as mobile and branchless banking can reduce this cost by more than 90%, while still complying with local regulations.

Vast parts of Africa remain unconnected. In countries where connections are offered, the cost of data is often sky-high and connections are typically available only in urban areas — not rural areas or the locations of the mass unbanked.

The view of some that unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) — also known as “quick codes” — is dead may well be misplaced.

App-based mobile banking certainly serves a purpose, but it is a far cry from meeting the needs of the mass market in terms of them becoming financially empowered and included.

Traditional banks across Africa need to rethink how they offer mobile banking to the masses — and quickly. The cost of data is out of their control, and shows no signs of being driven down.

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