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MO' MONEY

The mobile money industry processed more than $1 trillion in 2021

A customer speaks with a vendor through the window of a bus belonging to MTN.
Reuters/Temilade Adelaja
More mobile, more money
  • Alexander Onukwue
By Alexander Onukwue

West Africa correspondent

Published Last updated

Mobile money hit a new milestone last year as the value of transactions processed globally surpassed $1 trillion for the first time, according to a report released this week by the GSM Association, which tracks data in the mobile telecommunications industry.

A rise in merchant payments, international remittances, and governmental humanitarian assistance are some of the factors that led to the 31% growth in transaction value over 2020.

Mobile money has grown 10-fold in 10 years

Transaction value is a big marker but the growth of mobile money is observable through other metrics.

According to GSMA, which has released 10 consecutive annual reports, there were 316 mobile money services in 98 countries last year, compared to 169 in 71 countries in 2012.

As more service providers launch, agents also proliferate, from just over 500,000 a decade ago to 5.6 million last year. Having more agents means more people can sign up for mobile money accounts; registered mobile money accounts went up 10-fold to 1.35 billion within the decade.

While less than half of these accounts were active on a 90 or 30-day basis last year, there are 10 times more today than there were a decade ago.

Africa continues to lead mobile money adoption

These increases are most visible in sub-Saharan Africa. East Africa, where Safaricom’s M-Pesa helped popularize mobile money in the mid 2000s, remains the region with the highest transaction values—$403 billion last year. GSMA’s data suggest West Africa continues to grow fast, with a 60% jump in transaction value since 2020.

Despite its new milestone, mobile money remains most favored in low- and middle-income countries. GSMA still does not include any data for North America. Of the listed regions, Europe has the least number of live services (9), 30-day active accounts (5 million), and transaction value.

But as it finds use cases in savings, credit, and insurance, mobile money looks set to continue being vital in Africa, inviting multimillion-dollar investments from companies like Mastercard, and producing unicorn startups, all geared towards bridging gaps in financial access in the world’s fastest growing cities.

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