The reach of West Africa’s mobile money sector is 13 times wider than local banks

Image: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
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Rapid mobile adoption in West Africa since the turn of the decade has been a boon for the local mobile money industry.

As the West Africa mobile economy report by GSMA shows, mobile adoption in West Africa has nearly doubled from 28% at the turn of the decade to 47% last year. Indeed, by the end of 2017, there were 176 million unique subscribers across the region’s 15 member states. Just as importantly, by the end of last year, the number of mobile internet subscribers has doubled over the last four years to reach 78 million—nearly half of the total number of mobile subscribers.

That rapid growth has been a boon for financial inclusion, mainly through mobile money. Thanks to expanding agent networks and more enabling regulations, there are now 13 times more active mobile money agents in West Africa than the total number of bank branches and ATMs, the report notes. Paga, a leading mobile money service in Nigeria, boasts a network of nearly 15,000 agents.

Mobile money in West Africa has “evolved beyond in-country peer-to-peer transfers, to international remittances, more complex financial products, and payment platforms for products and services across a wide range of sectors,” the report says. The industry’s growth in the region has been mainly driven by major telecoms companies, including Airtel, MTN and Orange who are looking to replicate Safaricom’s success in East Africa. Last year, Orange deepened its play for the region’s mobile money market and launched its financial services brand in Burkina Faso and, in 2016, it received licenses to set up autonomous mobile money subsidiaries in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Senegal.

Mobile money is becoming increasingly important for Orange which caters to 130 million customers across 20 countries in Africa and the Middle East. Revenues from Orange Money in Africa grew by 60% last year, the company said.  Orange is doubling down on more investment in 4G networks to boost connectivity for its 37 million Orange Money users.

According to GSMA, mobile money accounts in West Africa grew 21% last year to reach 104.5 million—second only to East Africa, home to Safaricom’s MPesa. The total value of transactions last year also reached $5.3 billion.

West Africa also now leads in the number of live mobile money services on the continent and the industry in the region continues to grow: last year, 34% of the total mobile money accounts registered across Sub-Saharan Africa were in West Africa.

Despite the recent recorded progress in mobile adoption, more than half of the population in West Africa were not subscribed to mobile services last year, GSMA notes. However, West Africa’s young population is expected to be a boon for mobile penetration in coming years as more young adults get connected. GSMA estimates that 72 million new subscribers will be added by 2025—improving the region’s subscriber penetration to 54%.