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Mobile Money Glossary

This glossary provides definitions for common mobile money industry terminology. We are also able to provide the mobile money glossary in French and Spanish (available in PDF format below). Don’t see a term on our list? Feel free to suggest it at

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A person or business contracted to process transactions for users. The most important of these are cash in and cash out (i.e. loading value into the mobile money system, and then converting it back out again); in many instances, agents register new customers too. Agents usually earn commissions for performing these services. They also often provide front-line customer service—such as teaching new users how to complete transactions on their phone. Typically, agents will conduct other kinds of business in addition to mobile money. Agents will sometimes be limited by regulation, but small-scale traders, microfinance institutions, chain stores, and bank branches serve as agents in some markets. Some industry participants prefer the terms “merchant” or “retailer” to avoid certain legal connotations of the term “agent” as it is used in other industries.
In the case of mobile money, an agent outlet is a location where one or several mobile money agents are contracted to facilitate transactions for users. An active agent outlet is an agent outlet that facilitated at least one transaction within the past 30 days.
A person or business responsible for recruiting new agents. Often, this role is combined with that of a master-agent, and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
Purchase of airtime via mobile money, usually funded from a mobile money account.
A set of rules, typically issued by central banks, that attempt to prevent and detect the use of financial services for money laundering or to finance terrorism. The global standard-setter for AML/CFT rules is in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The mobile channel that communicates instructions between a customer’s handset and a mobile money platform. Mobile network operators provide the ‘bearer channel’ in any deployment, sometimes for a fee to compensate them for the cost of data traffic. The most commonly used bearer channels are USSD, SMS and GPRS.
A payment made by a person from either a wallet or over the counter to an organisation via a mobile money platform in exchange for services provided.
A payment made by an organisation via a mobile money platform to a person’s mobile wallet. For example: salary payments made by an organisation to their employees mobile wallet or payments made by a Government to a recipient’s mobile wallet (G2P payment).
The process by which a customer credits his account with cash. This is usually via an agent who takes the cash and credits the customer’s mobile money account.
The process by which a customer deducts cash from his mobile money account. This is usually via an agent who gives the customer cash in exchange for a transfer from the customer’s mobile money account.
Short for “electronic money,” is stored value held in the accounts of users, agents, and the provider of the mobile money service. Typically, the total value of e-money is mirrored in bank account(s), so that even if the provider of the mobile money service were to fail, users could recover 100% of the value stored in their accounts. That said, bank deposits can earn interest, while e-money cannot.
The balance of e-money, or physical cash, or money in a bank account that an agent can immediately access to meet customer demands to purchase (cash in) or sell (cash out) electronic money.
Financial services offered by regulated institutions as opposed to informal financial services, which are unregulated. As well as banks, remittance service providers, microfinance institutions and MNOs can be licensed to offer certain financial services.
A payment by a Government to a person’s mobile money account.
Financial services offered by unregulated entities. Examples of informal financial services are susu collections in Ghana, loan-shark lending, savings groups, etc.
Cross border fund transfer from one person to another person. This transaction requires an intermediary organisation such as Western Union.
The ability of users of different mobile money services to transact directly with each other. Given the technical, strategic, and regulatory complexities that such transactions entail, no mobile money platforms are fully interoperable with each other yet. However, many mobile money services allow users to send money to nonusers (who receive the transfer in the form of cash at an agent).
Rules related to AML/CFT which mean providers must carry out procedures to identify a customer.
The ability of an agent to meet customers’ demands to purchase (cash in) or sell (cash out) e-money. The key metric used to measure the liquidity of an agent is the sum of their e-money and cash balances (also known as their float balance).
A person or business that purchases e-money from an MNO wholesale and then resells it to agents, who in turn sell it to users. Unlike a super-agent, master-agents are responsible for managing the cash and electronic-value liquidity requirements of a particular group of agents.
A payment made from a mobile wallet via a mobile money platform to a retail merchant in exchange for goods or services.
When customers access a bank account via a mobile phone; sometimes, they are able to initiate transactions.
Mobile credit and savings use the mobile phone to provide credit and/or savings services to the underserved.
The use of a mobile phone to access financial services and execute financial transactions. This includes both transactional and non-transactional services, such as viewing financial  information on a user’s mobile phone. Mobile money, mobile insurance, mobile credit and mobile savings are mobile financial services.
Mobile insurance uses the mobile phone to provide microinsurance services to the underserved.
A service in which the mobile phone is used to access financial services.
An e-money account that is primarily accessed using a mobile phone that is held with the e-money issuer. In some jurisdictions, e-money accounts may resemble conventional bank accounts, but are treated differently under the regulatory framework because they are used for different purposes (for example, as a surrogate for cash or a stored value that is used to facilitate transactional services). An active mobile money account is a mobile money account that has been used to conduct at least one transaction during a certain period of time (usually 90 days or 30 days).
A transaction made from a mobile wallet, accrues to a mobile wallet, and/or is initiated using a mobile phone.
A company that has a government-issued license to provide telecommunications services through mobile devices.
A transaction made from a mobile wallet, accrues to a mobile wallet, and/or is initiated using a mobile phone. Sometimes, the term mobile payment is used to describe only transfers to pay for goods or services, either at the point of sale (retail) or remotely (bill payments).
There are two types of off-network transfers: transfers that are initiated by registered mobile money users to unregistered users, and transfers between two accounts of  different but interconnected mobile money schemes. In the former case, the e-money will  need to be cashed-out at an agent of the sender’s agent network.
A term used to describe creating a mobile money account for a customer via the mobile network, without the need to update any physical hardware in the phone.
Some mobile money services are being offered primarily over-the-counter (OTC). In such cases, a mobile money agent performs the transactions on behalf of the customer, who does not need to have a mobile money account to use the service.
A transfer made from one person to another person.
A transfer made from one person to a business.
The hardware and software that enables the provision of a mobile money service.
A retail location where payments are made for goods or services.
In the context of mobile money, this typically refers to the regulator who has supervisory authority over financial institutions within a particular country—usually the central bank or other financial authority.
Traditionally, the storage of a customer’s money by a bank within an interest-bearing account. It is sometimes used more loosely to describe any store of money, such as the balance of electronic money within a mobile wallet.
A business, sometimes a bank, which purchases electronic money from an MNO wholesale and then resells it to agents, who in turn sell it to users.
Customers, usually the very poor, who do not have a bank account or a transaction account at a formal financial institution.
Customers who may have access to a basic transaction account offered by a formal financial institution, but still have financial needs that are unmet. For example, they may not be able to send money safely or affordably.
Customers who use mobile financial services primarily over-the-counter. Unregistered users include both people transacting over the counter in the case of OTC services, and unregistered recipients of off-net P2P transfers in the case of wallet-base services.