Kenya: Mobile Phone Money Transfers Race Ahead of Debit Cards

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

Four in five new cell phone subscribers are signing up for money transfer services, the latest industry data shows.

The new statistics indicate that the handset has become a key tool for financial inclusion.

The Communications Commission of Kenya attributed the preference for mobile money transfer platforms to the ease of enlisting for the service.

"Continued growth is an indication of subscribers' preference for mobile money transfer, which could be attributed to accessibility and affordability even to low-income earners," CCK said in an industry report for the third quarter of last year.

The data released on Friday shows that 83.9 per cent of the customers who signed up for mobile phone services between July and September last year also signed up for money transfer services.

There were 1.02 million new sign-ups for money services out of a total of 1.2 million new subscriptions in the third quarter of 2011.By the end of September, 26.5 million customers had mobile phones out of which 18.4 million -- or 69.5 per cent -- were using mobile money.

Deposits made through phone services grew from Sh48 billion between April and June last year to Sh56 billion, representing an increase of 5.9 per cent.

Compared to the previous year's third quarter, the amount that customers deposited grew by 58.6 per cent, indicating that the uptake of the money services by consumers had gathered pace between September 2010 and June 2011.

The new data comes as an increasing number of financial services and telecommunication companies and commercial banks announce partnerships that are expected to help them tap into money transfer and plastic money payment systems.

In September last year, Airtel announced a partnership with MasterCard Worldwide and Standard Chartered Bank that allows Airtel subscribers to make payments using the MasterCard network and shop online using a platform dubbed PayOnlineInKenya.

A few weeks later, Orange Money launched the Orange Money Visa Card in partnership with Equity Bank and global payment systems provider Visa International that allows Orange subscribers to access over 22 million outlets that use the Visa payment system, allowing phones to work as debit cards.

Safaricom and I&M Bank also have a service that allows M-Pesa customers to transfer money from their accounts to a Visa pre-paid card dubbed M-Pesa prepay Safari Card which can be used globally.In the third quarter of last year, the Central Bank of Kenya said that mobile money services had become the preferred mode of payment and transferring money, beating even plastic money.

"For retail payment systems, mobile money transfers are today the most widely used mode of payment in Kenya followed by the use of plastic cards," said the CBK, showing that Sh560 million was moved using plastic money compared to Sh732 billion through mobile money transfer between January and December 2010.

In the first nine months of last year, Sh428 billion was moved using 8.65 million plastic money cards that were in the market.