Recently I read a newspaper article about remittances from Ugandans living in the diaspora . The writer mentioned that according to a report released by the World bank, remittances from Ugandans abroad grew by 11.3 per cent to 773 million dollars in 2010. The same report pointed out that remittances from the Diaspora to Sudan stood at an impressive $3,178 million dollars and those to Kenya stood at $1,758million. The report attributed part of this growth in remittances to the increased use of mobile money transfer technology in particular Safaricom’s M-pesa in Kenya.
Have you noticed that these days the word Bank rarely comes up whenever people are talking about money transfer? In fact it is said that less than 1.5 million Ugandans have a bank account yet Uganda’s tele-density stands at 30 per cent plus i.e. over 10 million Ugandans use or have access to a mobile phone. In a recent interview with the Daily Monitor Safricom CEO Bob Collymore said that the network has 17million customers and that many of them use Safaricom’s services and products even before they think of buying food. Think about that good people; this statement rings true, the mobile phone has become a must-have, accessory. In the past before setting off for any destination ladies always looked for their handbags and guys always looked for their car keys. Now that’s history, everyone is always making sure they have their mobile phone handy before they settle down to do anything.
I don’t know if like me you had students in your class who were always making loud suggestions in class and answering every question the teacher asked even when the teacher was clearly not addressing them, we used to call such students “wise-akers”. Well I can confirm that today’s “wise-aker” is the mobile phone, it seems to be able to answer all your questions and provide all the necessary solutions to your needs. The mobile phone is now only 5 per cent telephone and 95 per cent lifestyle, it is a camera, a notepad , a wallet, email, video, photo album, health application, social network service- in Kenya it is being used to monitor/follow up farmers and provide Agricultural extension services and HIV/ Aids patients on medication and the list goes on.
The East African economies are mostly cash economies and this is why money transfer technologies like M-pesa have registered record breaking success – M-Pesa is said to be the most successful money transfer service in the world. For a longtime the question of how to reach the unbanked Ugandans has been asked and debated. It is becoming increasingly clear that the solution to this problem lies in taking banking services to the people using the mobile phone as a platform. I am always saddened by how most people dread making a trip to their bank. It is not uncommon to find someone agonizing sometimes for hours over having to go to the bank for one thing or another. How can we in the industry ease this pain? How do we make banking a pleasant experience? Since now more than ever, people have less time in their busy schedules to go to the bank, shouldn’t we take the bank to them via the mobile phone?
This is going to require all of us putting our heads together i.e. the banks, the different regulators, the customers and the telecoms companies. Addressing issues of cyber crime, fraud, breaches of customer confidentiality and money laundering will have to be given top priority. It has been said that the world craves a problem solver, so I am putting out an advert out there to all of you: “Problem Solver Needed” and please remember, money is the reward for solving a problem.
The writer is the Head of Financial Markets at ’Standard Chartered Bank. GraceTibihikirra.Makoko@sc.com