[BLOG] Barry Coetzee Column: Mobile Money Matures
February has seen a rash of announcements that, taken together, start giving an insight into the direction that mobile money is taking.
The Ethiopian government announced a framework for agent and mobile banking. This will enable the burgeoning microfinance industry to finally move positively. Clear in the framework is the fact that it is a “bank led” model. On its own this is not very significant in Ethiopia as it has only one, government owned, mobile operator.
Then in Kenya, we see a transaction tax being made applicable to mobile transactions as well as those of banks. Although this seems just fair and reasonable, one must remember that Kenya is the leading “operator led” example of mobile money in the world. Here we have the financial/tax authorities including mobile transactions in their definition of a financial transaction. It was also very reassuring to see that Bob Collymore, the CEO of Safaricom sounded remarkably like the CEO of a bank when he expressed displeasure at the announcement ... and then said that the cost would be passed onto the account holders. Just like any bank CEO would have done.
The Bank of Tanzania (BoT) then announced that mobile financial service regulations are expected to be released by June 2013. Up until now Tanzania has de facto operated on an “operator led” mobile money model with four service providers – Vodacom (M-Pesa), Airtel (Airtel Money), Tigo (Tigo Pesa), and Zantel (Ezy-Pesa)). Some commercial banks have linked their services with mobile operators where bank account holders can deposit and withdraw cash using mobile phones. However, the BoT is quite clear in its statement. The BoT will be the regulator of mobile money. All the normal banking clichés were in the statement: oversight required, enhanced security required and that staple of banking regulation - “absence of regulations may allow possible illicit activities such as money laundering and terrorism financing.”
All of the above from East Africa, the birthplace of “operator led” mobile money. Dare I suggest that the mobile money industry is starting to grow up? No longer just the brightest child in the neighbourhood, mobile money has achieved a huge milestone. It is being taken very seriously. Its future is being discussed by the adults, and a path has been decided on.
Mobile Money is taking the same route as all other Money. It is not an anomaly. It is money. All the responsibility and privileges that are the world of money will apply. Most importantly, the users of mobile money will receive the same benefits and protection that they get when they use any other sort of money. The only problem with be our generation. To us, mobile money is a revolution, not a very convenient bank.
Barry Coetzee is a regular columnist on Africa Business Communities