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M-Pesa: a cash-based alternative to help the unbanked

Categories : Cash connects people, Innovation contributes to the efficiency of cash
August 7, 2017
Tags : Cash, Mobile phone, Social Inclusion, Unbanked
M-Pesa system could allow unbanked consumers to access cashless services.
Communication Team / Equipo de Comunicación

In the debate around the cashless society, it is often argued that a fully digitalized world would leave a great part of the population behind, from the elderly that are not used to e-transactions to the unbanked people, who have no access to banking services.

According to the 2014 Global Findex, 38% of the worldwide population is unbanked, representing about 2 billion individuals. Experts worry that the current push toward cashless might have prejudicial consequences for these consumers, who are already deprived of a wide range of services, starting with online shopping. Furthermore, various European countries have already taken further steps to reduce the use of paper money and an increasing number of retailers now refuse cash payments, making unbanked people’s life ever more difficult. As a result, specialists of the payment industry are wondering whether a M-Pesa-like system could be the answer to these consumers not wishing or allowed to use e-payments.

M-Pesa is a mobile money service allowing its users to deposit, withdraw and transfer cash via text messages on a mobile phone. The program was launched in 2007 by Safaricom and Vodacom firstly in Kenya and Tanzania – where the program is extremely popular – and was since expanded to Afghanistan, South Africa and India and more recently to Romania and Albania. The service allows its users to deposit money into an account stored on their cell phones and to send balances using PIN-secured SMS to other users, including participating retailers which act as banking agents. Money transfers can be redeemed for cash instantly.

The implementation of such a system could be extremely favourable for the unbanked, which would thus benefit from a fictional bank account stored on their phones. As a result, they would be able to visit participating merchants usually refusing cash payments, fostering at the same time social inclusion within a community.

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