Given that relatively few Africans have traditional bank accounts while most now own a mobile phone, it is of little wonder the region has taken the global lead in using the devices to pay bills, make purchases, manage their savings or get fast access to cash.
A report last year by Swedish telecom company Ericsson said mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa were set to surpass 635 million by the end of 2014 – a figure “predicted to rise to around 930 million by the end of 2019.”
Data from the World Bank for 2014 also showed that while less than 29 percent of people aged 15 and over in the region had a traditional bank account, around 10 percent possessed an alternative accessible by mobile phone. That figure rose to over 50 percent in countries like Gabon, Kenya and Sudan.
Overall, the World Bank found 16 percent of sub-Saharan mobile users have used their phones for banking purposes — a figure larger than any other global region, and ripe for far wider use still.
In 2014 alone, about $67 billion in funds were transferred by African expatriates back to people on the continent. With fees charged by mobile banking companies for transactions generally lower than traditional intermediaries like Western Union, the growth potential for financial phone applications appears enormous.
For now, however, telecom operators in Africa largely limit mobile services to buying phone credits, paying water and electricity bills, or making money transfers and cash withdrawals – relatively basic but considerably handy services to local clients.