Mobile Money as a driver of financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa

On 21 June 2017, the GSMA will be participating in the Africa Business Technology Forum in London, where we will present findings on the role mobile money has had to drive financial inclusion in Africa over the past decade. This event gives us the opportunity to reflect on the achievements of mobile money in Africa, on how financial inclusion is driving business growth through partnerships between mobile operators and third parties, and what challenges still exist.

In the past decade, mobile money has become a global story, surpassing half a billion registered accounts with 277 services in 92 countries. Mobile money is now available in two-thirds of low- and middle-income countries and in 85% of markets where less than 20% of the population has access to a formal financial institution.

By enabling people to store and transact money in digital form, hundreds of millions of underserved people are safer, are more productive with their time and their money, and are able to take advantage of increased socio-economic opportunities. Recent research shows that, in Kenya, 2% of households were able to escape extreme poverty.

Regional mobile money growth

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the growth of mobile money has been exponential and is now covering most of the continent. As of December 2016, there were over 277 million registered mobile money accounts, a significantly higher number compared to 178 million banks accounts in the region*. There are now 128 deployments in 39 countries—in seven of these countries, more than 40% of the adult population is using mobile money as part of everyday life, including Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Uganda, Gabon and Namibia.

Source: AFDB, The Banking System in Africa: Main Facts and Challenges. SSA Bank accounts per 1000 adults 334.5

Compared to other regions, Sub-Saharan Africa also shows a smaller gender gap in term of usage of mobile money. The gender gap is 19.5%, nearly 50% lower than it is for low- and middle-income countries.

The region has also seen an evolution of mobile money use cases. In 2011, P2P transfers and airtime top-ups were the dominant use cases, but in 2016 the picture has changed significantly. Ecosystem transactions – which we define as bill payments, bulk disbursements, international remittances and merchant payments—have grown exponentially, and now represent more than 25% of the value in circulation. These new use cases not only allow users to be more integrated in society but are also leading to increased efficiencies amongst governments, businesses and SMEs.

Mobile money has also been a gateway to other financial services such as insurance, credit and savings. Credit in particular has enjoyed a strong growth in the continent. In 2016 there were 39 live mobile money-enabled credit services, up from four services in 2010.

The role of enabling regulation

While technological and operational innovations have been critical to mobile money, success also relies on regulatory innovation. In in 2016, the GSMA, in partnership with a Harvard Business School professor and an independent economist, conducted the first-ever large sample quantitative analysis of mobile money success factors. The study, which controlled for all significant market conditions, showed clearly that markets with enabling regulation**, including direct regulation of non-banks and a risk-based approach to registration requirements, enjoyed greater success***.

Reaching full financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa

Despite the growth and the opportunities, there is still much to be done to reach full financial inclusion in Africa. Mobile money providers are at the forefront, but additional focus is needed in several areas:

  • Robust investment: Heavy operational expenditure & full buy-in from senior leadership is required to grow mobile money in a sustainable business
  • Innovation and ecosystem expansion: Third party integration is not yet seamless
  • Women and rural customers: Despite being lower than in other regions, there is still opportunities to reduce gender gap in mobile money and increase the reach in rural areas
  • Maintaining a proportional risk-based approach to regulation, even as the regulatory frameworks for mobile money evolve, to ensure the service can continue to reach low-income individuals


The Africa Technology Business Forum is an annual, one-day conference on 21 June bringing together Africa-focused global technology innovators, business leaders and investors. For more information:


*Source: AFDB, The Banking System in Africa: Main Facts and Challenges. SSA bank accounts per 1,000 adults: 334.5. The figure refers to the number of bank accounts in 2015.

**The GSMA defines an ‘enabling regulatory environment’ for mobile money as one where the following criteria are met: (1) MNOs or their subsidiaries are able to obtain a licence directly to offer electronic money; (2) prudential requirements are proportional to the risks presented by the mobile money business; (3) mobile money providers are able to offer their services using a network of third party agents; (4) Know Your Customer requirements are tiered and risk-based to support the growth of low-value accounts; (5) regulations allow for a market-led approach to interoperability.

***Evans, D. and Pirchio, A. (2015). An Empirical Examination of Why Mobile Money Schemes Ignite in Some Developing Countries but Flounder in Most. University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 723.

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