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Reuters/Noor Khamis

Africans’ financial lives—from getting paid to taking out loans—are happening on mobile phones

By Omar Mohammed

It’s no secret that mobile money is the primary banking tool of choice for many Africans. This year alone, $33 billion is expected to change hands via mobile services on the continent. That’s almost much as the GDP of Ghana.

A recent survey done by SOKO Insight, a research firm, looked at mobile-money usage in Ghana and Kenya, where almost two-thirds of mobile owners now have mobile-money accounts.

And where it was once mainly a tool to send and receive cash, mobile money has also become an increasingly common way for people to pay their bills, receive their wages, and even get loans:

The rise of mobile money in Africa has put traditional banks on the defensive, with mobile-phone companies doing double-duty as financial institutions. Still, banks remain the provider of choice for financial products, according to SOKO Insight’s survey:

But for how much longer? Users say mobile money is almost as easy to use as traditional financial services, and more affordable:

Banks have responded to the competition by coming up with their own mobile-money platforms, in some cases partnering with mobile carriers to do so (the classic “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” strategy). Kenya’s second-largest bank, Equity Bank, launched Equitel earlier this year in collaboration with Airtel. It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of a ”phone bank.”