A paper by Jake Kendall, Bill Maurer, Phillip Machoka, and Clara Veniard

While it has often been described as a money transfer product, when mobile money reaches scale it can also be seen as a network infrastructure and platform facilitating the exchange of cash and electronic value between various economic actors including clients, businesses, the government, and financial service providers. In the past, the emergence of other network infrastructures that provide new ways of moving people, goods, energy or information (canals, railroads, electricity, telecommunications, internet, etc.) has had transformative effects on the economy. In this paper, we document what may be the early stages of just such a transformation in the market for retail financial services in Kenya, where the M-PESA mobile money product has achieved the scale necessary to form an infrastructure backbone to the financial system.

Our investigations uncovered significant integration of mobile money into the product and services offered by financial institutions in Kenya. We find an ecosystem of firms has sprung up to facilitate the technical integration of existing financial institutions’ back end systems with the new mobile money platform. We also find a number of innovative new businesses and “pure play” startups which operate solely over the mobile money platform. That said, significant barriers remain which block the development of a more fully developed ecosystem including the high price of money transfers and the difficulty of integrating to the mobile money interfaces (especially that of M-PESA). Firms wishing to outsource their day-to-day cash transactions with clients to the mobile money system may face a new challenge, as they must find new opportunities for interactions with their clients to reinforce rapport, build trust, educate, and cross sell new products.

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