Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MTN's Mobile Money taking off in Uganda

MTN Uganda, a subsidiary of South Africa's MTN, expects users of mobile money services to grow by three-quarters by 2012 giving people in rural areas the chance to build businesses and safely transfer money.

"It has grown to a scale we never expected," Richard Mwami, head of mobile money at MTN Uganda told Reuters ahead of the GSMA's Mobile Money summit in Rio de Janeiro, which kicks off on May 24.

The expansion of mobile money is a trend that is being played out in developing countries around the world.

MTN Uganda expects more than 2 million users of its mobile money services by the end of the year and 3.5 million users by 2012.

"We currently have registered 890,000 mobile money users, around 16 percent of our subscriber base," Mwami said.

MTN Uganda has a market share of 60 percent. Kuwait mobile operator Zain and Orange also operate in east Africa's third largest economy.

Access to mobile financial services such as transfers for food, shopping or to send money home removes the need for long, costly and often cumbersome journeys to move money around and allows people to store cash as well.

It also helps village businesses thrive and gives entrepreneurs a safe way to transport money.

Aletha Ling, executive director of Fundamo, the world's leading provider of software and services for mobile money to network operators such as MTH Uganda and banks, said the use of mobile financial services "changes the entire ecosystem of a village.

"A woman who has a fishing boat, smokes the fish, (moves) the money up and down the country would get robbed on the way and that nearly wiped out the business," she said, adding such problems are eliminated with mobile money.

Some $195 million have passed through the platform since its launch in March 2009 with around 11.8 million transactions since then, Mwami said.

Juniper Research has estimated that more than 500 million people around the world will use mobile money transfer services by 2014, principally in developing countries.

The telecom trade body GSMA has predicted that operators could make $5 billion from financial services by "banking" 364 million unbanked people by 2012.

In Kenya 11 percent of the country's gross domestic product is moved via mobile money through Safaricom's mobile phone based money transfer service known as M-Pesa, said Greg Reeve, head of mobile payment solution at Vodafone, which partners with Safaricom.

"We will be launching in South Africa and you will see some other announcements soon," he added.

Vodafone also offers M-Pesa mobile money in Afghanistan and Tanzania.

In Kenya, it has also introduced a new service known as M-Kesho, which is available to M-Pesa users and Kenya's Equity Bank's account holders, allowing users to gain access to credit, earn interest on deposits and buy insurance.