Use of mobile payment in the continent is definitely on the rise. Kenya’s main players in mobile payment (Safaricom and Zain) transfered a mind boggling $4.2 billion through their mobile money transfer services in 12 months up to June Last year. MTN’s Mobilemoney transfered $2.6 million in four months after launching in Uganda, a service they want to Extend to Rwanda.

MTN, Africa’s biggest mobile operator by subscribers has signed a deal with Fundamo, a South Africa-based mobile banking and payment solutions group to provide mobile banking facilities. Already commercially active in Uganda and Ghana, MTN’s Mobile Money begun trials in October 2008 in Uganda, Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria. Five additional pilots were recently launched in Benin, Congo Brazzaville, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry and Liberia. In each market, MTN will partner with local banks to ensure that its MMT services are fully compliant with financial services regulations.

Mobile payment systems are seen to be the solution for bridging the gap between the Banked and the unbanked in Africa. In Kenya, a mobile payment service (M-Pesa) has been instrumental in accelerating rural economic growth by between 4-5%.

The interest in mobile money is immense within the continent and countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan form the world’s mobile money hotspots, with states like Ethiopia and Somalia following closely behind, said Norman Frankel, the founder and CEO of Mi-Pay, a Sudanese mobile money transfer company while speaking to industry journal MMT Explained.

Of these, Kenya plays host to the greatest number of mobile money products, and with over eight million users of the services, has the distinction of recruiting the highest number of subscribers to the mobile money phenomenon.

“If you look at the World Bank Remittance Factbook and identify countries with a low percentage of the population who emigrate but with strong urban migration trends, you’ll see these countries embracing mobile money faster,” Norman Frankel said.

Standard Bank, Africa’s largest bank by assets and earnings, is said to have set up a desk to specifically draft a strategy for reaching the unbanked in the continent through mobile handsets. It is anticipated that it will utilize its Mzansi Money Transfer solution to allow customers in the 17 African countries it operates in to send and receive money without the need for a bank account. In South Africa, where the service is available, it is not just restricted to Standard Bank branches, but is available at any of the participating banks and the South African Post Office. The bank says on its website that Mzansi will be of special help to people in rural areas who can now receive money sent by relatives and friends at a bank without needing to have a bank account and it will also target migrant workers wishing to send money to their dependants back home.

Meanwhile, mobile phone manufacturer Nokia has also announced its intention to launch a cross-network mobile money transfer product in conjunction with Obopay in the coming months. Obopay has also indicated that it will be partnering with Kenya’s fourth mobile service provider Essar, to release YuCash, which was announced for launch in the dying weeks of 2009.

Hope Africa will be to mobile money solutions what Silicon Valley was to software in the last decade.

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