The State of Mobile Financial Services: An Interview with GSMA’s Jennifer Frydrych

New markets, shifts in the mobile payments mix, successes with products beyond payments, the main hurdles facing mobile money ecosystems, and more

Coinciding with this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, GSMA’s Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) program released its fourth annual ‘State of the Industry Report on Mobile Financial Services.’ CFI spoke with Jennifer Frydrych, Insights Coordinator for the MMU program and one of the authors on the report, about the project’s findings.

The mobile money industry has grown rapidly in recent years. Can you bring us up to date with some of the growth figures and dynamics?

In the past five years, mobile money services have spread across much of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. At the end of 2014, there were 255 live mobile money services across 89 markets, 36 more than in 2013. Mobile money is now available in 61 percent of developing markets globally. In terms of adoption and usage growth, 75 million additional mobile money accounts were opened globally in 2014, bringing the total number of registered accounts to 299 million. Importantly, account activity increased faster than account registration in 2014, and the total number of active mobile money accounts is now 103 million (up from 73 million in 2013). An increasing number of services are reaching scale: 21 services now have more than one million active accounts.

As of the last State of the Industry report, half of all live mobile money deployments were in sub-Saharan Africa. How has this distribution changed? What were some new or emerging markets of the past year?

There were 22 new services launches in 2014, of which half occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. The mobile money industry in sub-Saharan Africa continues to grow, and the region still accounts for just over half of all live services globally, and 60 percent of all active accounts. Much of this success can be attributed to East Africa; however we are now seeing exciting growth in mobile money uptake and active usage in West Africa.

In 2014 mobile money was rolled out for the first time in six new markets– Dominican Republic, Myanmar, Panama, Romania, Sudan, and Timor-Leste.

Historically, airtime top-ups have dominated the mobile money payments mix, followed distantly by domestic P2P transfers. Can you give us a snapshot of the current payment product space and a sense for how this is changing?

In the month of December 2014, mobile money users transacted a total of 717.2 million times, totaling a value of US$16.3 billion. Domestic P2P transfers and airtime top-ups continue to dominate the global product mix in terms of volume and value, but the fastest growth in 2014 occurred in bulk disbursements, and bill and merchant payments. This reflects an expanding ecosystem of institutional and business users of mobile money. Equally, there was a steep increase in the number of international remittance transactions in 2014, largely driven by the exciting new model of using mobile money as both the sending and receiving channel.

It’s still early days for mobile credit, savings, and insurance products. What were some of the success stories of 2014?

As of June 2014, 17 million mobile insurance policies had been issued, representing an annualised growth rate of 263 percent. Life insurance cover remains the most popular mobile insurance offering; however, we see growth in the number of health, accident, and agricultural insurance policies being issued. New commercial and partnership models have helped mobile insurance providers achieve scale. A number of MNOs have partnered with specialist solution providers to develop tailored insurance products for the low-income market segment. In addition, many providers have reassessed their commercial models, and have in many cases employed loyalty and “freemium” models to encourage customer uptake.

When it comes to mobile savings, one interesting innovation in 2014 was an initiative of Tigo Tanzania which began to return interest generated on the trust account to its users. In September 2014 Tigo Tanzania disbursed US$8.7 million to 3.5 million users, followed by a second disbursement of US$1.8 million in November. Tigo plans to make payments to users quarterly.

2014 also saw a 50 percent increase in the number of mobile credit services. This was fueled in part by new partnerships between MNOs and banks to provide mass-market short-term loans, and by microfinance institutions and start-ups targeting specific segments of the underserved. New credit scoring models using MNO data are also starting to result in lower numbers of non-performing loans compared to traditional lending.

A mobile money service’s success is contingent upon a plethora of factors, including agents, merchants, competition, interoperability, regulation, and client awareness. What are the main hurdles we’re witnessing today?

Lack of investment in operations is one factor preventing the development and expansion of mobile money services. A recent MMU paper on mobile money profitability revealed the extent to which providers must invest heavily in operational and commercial infrastructure at the start of the life of the service in order to ensure operational excellence in areas such as customer awareness and distribution to begin the journey towards profitability.

Industry learning gaps still exist around how to reach and serve harder-to-reach customers, including rural communities and female clients.

In a number of markets regulatory hurdles still exist, which can slow the development of the mobile money industry and the benefits it can bring for financial inclusion. Today, regulation is enabling in 47 out of 89 markets where mobile money is available, according to the new report.

What were the data sources used for this year’s State of the Industry report, and is it a challenge getting ample quality data to assess the industry to the extent desired?

The report is based on data from GSMA Mobile Money Intelligence on planned and live mobile financial services. The data includes qualitative insights on these services, as well as quantitative information on numbers of users, distribution points, transaction volumes and values, and revenues. This data is updated regularly, primarily using the results from MMU’s annual Global Adoption Survey of Mobile Financial Services, which captured data from 127 respondents from 69 countries in 2014. In addition, for core metrics, MMU uses data modelling to estimate and forecast figures, making information available for the entire industry, rather than only for survey participants. The estimates help to provide a true representation of the scale of the industry both globally and at the market level. This data provides key industry stakeholders–such as regulators, senior executives in telecoms and banking sectors, and international development agencies–with an authoritative overview of the industry and its impact on the financial lives of unbanked and underbanked users.

Last year’s reports paid special attention to women and mobile money, and mobile money in rural areas. Over the past year, what progress was made in these priority areas?

Where data is available, it showed that penetration of mobile money services amongst women and within rural areas has increased. Much of this growth may be organic and due to the overall growth of the mobile money registered base, but MNOs that want to drive adoption in the mass market need to adapt their strategies and tactics specifically to tap into underserved segments. Regardless of the level of maturity of their service, there are fundamental indicators mobile money providers can use to improve the visibility of underserved segments, including the collection of demographic data to identify and track usage amongst women and rural customers.

What’s next from GSMA that we can look forward to?

Coming up the MMU team will publish a number of publications including:

  • Case study on cross-border international remittances: insights into commercial implementation and user adoption from two early examples in West Africa.
  • Case study on enabling mobile money policies in Paraguay: this publication will showcase the journey Paraguay has taken towards digital financial inclusion, in particular through the creation of a regulatory framework that enables the mobile money market to increase its outreach and efficiency.

The full ‘State of the Industry Report on Mobile Financial Services’  is now available for download hereOver the next few weeks, some of the main findings from the report will be discussed on the MMU blog. Stay tuned!

Have you read?

‘Mobile Money Sprinters’ Adapt to Local Conditions in Pakistan, Somaliland, and Zimbabwe

Mobile Money in Afghanistan: An Uphill Battle

Beyond On-Ramps and Uptake: Exploring Surprising Benefits of Mobile Money

Join the Conversation

Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter.