Opinion: Why ‘payments as a platform’ matters for the future of financial inclusion

A customer conducts a mobile money transfer at a Safaricom agent stall in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by: REUTERS / Thomas Mukoya

Thanks to the incredible growth of mobile money in recent years, we’ve seen a transformation in access to financial services. With 866 million registered accounts and live services across 90 markets, the mobile money industry is offering a financial future to millions of customers around the world.

No longer simply a service to “send money home,” today millions of consumers are using mobile money in their daily activities: to pay for their children’s school fees, to access loans to invest in their farming activities, to save for the financial future of their household, and to anticipate and mitigate financial risks and shocks.  

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While mobile money has played a pivotal role in enhancing financial inclusion in a relatively short time, economic empowerment does not automatically result from standalone account ownership, but rather from the regular and tailored use of that account.

Today, the key question is how the mobile money business model can evolve to increase the relevance of accounts and to meet the changing needs of individuals and small businesses. Transitioning toward a “payments as a platform” approach, connecting consumers with third-party services across a range of industries, is at the heart of this evolution.

By extending the capabilities of the traditional mobile money model, the platform approach will contribute to the economic empowerment of individuals, communities, and businesses. Underserved groups such as rural communities, women, and persons with disabilities will have access to more targeted services thanks to more personalized products, from pay-as-you-go solar energy and real-time agricultural market data to personal financial management solutions.

Millions of young entrepreneurs, innovators, and small businesses will gain access to new income generation opportunities and new skills. Banks, smaller financial institutions, and microfinance institutions will also benefit, extending their services to millions of new customers.

So what will it take for the industry to transition to a payments platform? Mobile operators can leverage their core strengths — wide distribution networks, customer reach and trusted brands — while also capitalizing on innovation. This means laying the groundwork for the financial and technology ecosystems to grow around their service, expanding the range of products available to customers, and spurring local entrepreneurialism. This will require a shift in strategy and a consolidated business-wide effort to address technical and organizational challenges in five main areas, from establishing plug-and-play access to the mobile money system to adopting a personalized approach to product design.

Now more than ever, mobile’s unparalleled global scale provides a tremendous opportunity to reach the 1.7 billion people who remain financially excluded.

This year the GSMA Mobile Money team is increasingly supporting mobile operators in their transition to the “payments as a platform” approach. Economic empowerment is more possible thanks to the emergence of new technologies and new business models that will reshape mobile money over the coming years. Taking advantage of this opportunity requires collective practitioner cooperation across the mobile money ecosystem, while all the time keeping the needs of the underserved at the very center of this evolution.

We will be convening experts from the mobile ecosystem at this year’s Mobile 360 – Africa, taking place on 16-18 July in Kigali, Rwanda. This year’s focus is the “Rise of the Digital Citizen: Building a digital world for citizens of today and tomorrow.” Day 3 will be devoted entirely to the Mobile Money Leadership Forum, exploring the challenges and opportunities of a transition to the “payments as a platform” approach. View the agenda and register to join us at mobile360series.com/africa.

This op-ed is part of a media partnership with GSMA.

About the author

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    Yasmina McCarty

    Yasmina McCarty is the head of mobile for development at the GSMA, where she leads a global team delivering digital innovations in agriculture, energy, water, sanitation, health, financial services, identity, humanitarian response, and gender equality. Yasmina’s work brings together mobile operators, tech innovators, donors, and policymakers to tackle inequality. This work has impacted more than 55 million people to date.