Viruses react and adapt to different environments. They keep adapting and mutating and resist to stop even when conditions aren’t totally optimal. They learn to act when conditions are scarced and many times make their lack their biggest strength. It happens often that the most powerful viruses are the ones that have mutated several times. Remember keep mutating and finding new forms to what already exist and to what isn’t there yet.
Time is gold and in Kenya airtime minutes are a currency
Some time ago, people from Uganda, Botswana, Ghana and Kenya started spontaneously using their mobile credit or airtime as a proxy for money transfer. These people started transferring airtime to their families, friends and relatives that were then using it or reselling it.
The situation in African countries has always been difficult. For some time, it was quite hard to transfer money to other people. People from the country side didn’t have any chance to access a bank account and sending money in other forms was unpractical and risky. There existed few alternatives for people that work in the capital or big cities to help economically their families living in other areas of the country.
But suddenly, if you wanted to transfer money to your mother who was kilometres away in the country side or a small town, you could ask her to go to someone that was reselling phone calls minutes. She will give you a code from the airtime reseller, and you will then buy credit to this number. The reseller will receive the airtime and will give the money in cash to your mother just charging a small commission. There’s no need of having a bank account any more and the transaction can be made by simply sending an sms.
This phenomenon was then formalized and now is a service provided by Kenya’s biggest phone company: SafariCom, that belongs to Vodafone. This text-message-based money-transfer system called mPesa, makes possible to pay bills, deposit and withdraw money, and transfer money to other users and even to bank accounts. This is a model that has been considered as the most successful mobile banking system that neither New York, nor London have accomplished till now.
This model has spread to different parts of the world already reaching Tanzania, South Africa, Afghanistan and India, among others, and since 2014 Romania; already achieving Europe. Today it is also possible to transfer money from other countries to an mPesa user via Western Union and Money Gram.
This alternative emerges from the need of transferring money mainly to parents and families in the countryside, from capital cities. The lack of possibilities and the difficulties to access a bank account were the triggers here that discovered the alternative.
But this couldn’t be possible without other dynamics that emerged before mPesa. The first was the merge of the Filipino Sachet mentality into mobile technologies and then it followed up with the so called ‘Minuteros’ (phone calls Minute resellers) with strong presence in Colombia.
The income opportunities are in big cities and the capital. It was extremely difficult to make money flow within the country for thing such as sending money to parents, relatives and friends that were in need, specially in rural areas. Banks couldn’t reach people but mobile phones did. A big amount of the population owned a mobile phone thus achieving a better and wider network than any bank could cover. Regulations for acquiring a phone were fewer than those from a bank account, and didn't need physical presence like many banks do.
People in some African countries couldn't have access to money. This was caused by giant difficulties to have a bank account or transport money, which was dangerous and unpractical.
People started spontaneously exchanging airtime credit from mobile phones for cash. This made possible the appearance of improvised money centers that weren't in need of banks.
New Service / Product / Interaction
A new kind of service was achieved which was the possibility of paying and transferring money via sms. This was a mobile banking system that didn't depended on banks.
Mobile phones weren't understood anymore as a communication tool for making calls but rather as a sort of money card. It was more like a key to have access to money in a convenient practical way.
Mobile Phones and Communication Networks