Saturday, September 15, 2012

Big strides to replace cash with digital payments in Africa

Late in 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned pollster Gallup to carry out face-to-face interviews with 1000 adults in a number of sub-Saharan countries (Botswana, DRC, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia). The purpose of the research was to analyse the payments and money transfer behaviour of people in these countries. The report was comprehensive and was published in June 2012. I am not aware of any subsequent research as this would show trends in the findings, but the results of the report still require some analysis. (The report can be downloaded here).

Some of the conclusions that one could draw from the findings are:

• More than half of the people interviewed (effectively representing 134 million people in these countries) had paid someone over a distance (meaning that the payer and the payee were not physically in the same place) in the past month
• The profile of each country surveyed is vastly different. For instance the percentage of people that have made a remote payment varies from 76% (in Kenya) to as low as 24% and 27% (in Rwanda and in Mali)
• Generally, countries with higher percentages have less people sending money in cash. (For instance only 20% of transactions in Kenya are cash-only, where-as 93% of transactions in Mali are cash only)
• The percentage of digital only (account to account transactions, with no conversion to cash) is above 15% in only five countries (Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, DRC and Zambia), whereas others are still very low (3.4% in Sierra Leone and 3.7% in Mali).

I am sure that these results have improved significantly in the about two years since the research have been done, but it is clear that Africa is a country changing into a digital payment world – although much must still be done.

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