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Mobile-Money: Africa’s game changing economic growth stimulator

Of the 277 facilities that allow users to transact using their mobile device, 140 are situated in Sub-Saharan Africa.

A new study has revealed that over half of all worldwide facilities that allow users to transact using their mobile devices, are situated in Sub-Saharan Africa.  In a continent where mobile phone penetration has long outpaced other types of infrastructure, mobile money has revolutionalized access to financial services, bringing the promise of economic growth and poverty reduction.

Mobile money is one example of Africa fostering and exporting innovation.  It has changed financial services.   According to the World Bank, in 2006, before the advent of mobile money, only 20 percent of Kenyan adults had access to financial services. By the end of 2010, three years after the introduction of mobile money, that share had jumped to 75 percent.

According to GSMA – an organisation that represents nearly 800 mobile operators around the world – of the 277 facilities that offer the service worldwide today, 140 are situated in 39 African countries.

This mass adoption of the technology is in no small part due to the financial freedom it brings to those “unbanked” individuals who are unable to access traditional transacting facilities where they live or work. Mobile-money creates access to financial services with a simple mobile phone.

GSMA’s report, entitled ‘State of Mobile Money in Sub-Saharan Africa’ reveals that there are seven markets in the region where more than 40 percent of adults are active mobile-money users. These include Gabon, Ghana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

It notes that by the end of 2016, registered mobile-money users exceeded 270 million. Where mobile-money users were historically concentrated in East Africa, “the latest data suggests that user growth is now also being driven by other markets in the region, notably West Africa.”

To put the growth into perspective, just five years ago, West Africa users accounted for only eight percent of active users. Today, that figure has risen to nearly 29 percent.

The mobile money revolution has enabled simple and affordable financial inclusion, allowing African countries which have embraced mobile money to leap frog certain developmental steps.  However, drawing on observations of a decade of mobile money operations in Africa, we need to be mindful  of the various regulatory challenges such innovations bring.

Wendy Rosenberg, a Director at Werksmans Attorneys’ Africa-facing Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice, says regulatory and legal issues arise along the chain from issuing through storage and, often cross-border, use, to investment of mobile money.

These issues are regulated through a variety of specific regulatory areas including e-commerce, consumer protection, privacy and data protection, telecommunications, IT law, financial regulation and competition (anti-trust) law.

Although we are witnessing increased movement towards mobile banking regulation, this area of law is nascent and not uniformly developed across African countries.  The big challenge, from a regulatory perspective, will be to put in place workable and appropriate regulation without stifling the development of mobile money and its benefits.

Avocats Werksmans is the LEX Africa member for South Africa.

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