M-Pesa helps drive up Kenyans' access to financial services: study

Rise in access to financial services had been driven by mobile phone services. [Photo: Courtesy]
The proportion of Kenya’s population with access to formal financial services rose to 83 per cent from 75 per cent in 2016, driven largely by mobile technology, a survey part-conducted by the central bank showed on Wednesday.

The East African nation is one of the world’s leaders in mobile money services, after telecoms operator Safaricom pioneered its M-Pesa service 12 years ago to cater for Kenyans without access to the formal banking network.

M-Pesa has since evolved from a basic SIM card-based money transfer application into a fully-fledged financial service, offering loans and savings in conjunction with local banks, plus merchant payments services.

Airtel Kenya, a unit of India’s Bharti Airtel, and Telkom Kenya Ltd also operate mobile money services in Kenya, as does Equity Group, a lender which runs virtual mobile network operator and financial services platform Equitel.

The survey by the central bank and FSD Kenya, a campaigner for financial inclusion, found that 41 percent of the population had bank accounts, meaning the broader rise in access to financial services had been driven by mobile phone services.

Kenya was ranked third on the continent after South Africa and Seychelles in terms of access to financial services. South Africa’s access stands at 90 percent while Seychelles stands at 95 percent.

Only 14 per cent of the Kenyan population had bank accounts in 2006 when the survey was first carried out. The figure rose to 34.4 per cent in 2016.

The latest data from the Communications Authority of Kenya shows that as of December 2018, Kenya had 31.6 million active users of mobile money transfer services.

Safaricom’s M-Pesa was the market leader with 25.57 million users, followed by Airtel with 3.77 million users.

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