NEWS COMMENTARY ON MOBILE MONEY REVOLUTION AND FINANCIAL INCLUSION IN GHANA.
Financial inclusion refers to the ability of an individual, household, or group to access suitable financial services or products. Traditional Banks started operating in Ghana in the late 19th century. With the introduction of mobile financial services in 2009, the huge gap of Ghana’s unbanked population is being bridged. The drive towards financial inclusion using the mobile phone platform does not discriminate along income, class or age group lines. The mobile money wallet is mainly used to transfer value from one person to another, for payment of goods and services such as airtime, paying for utility bills, DSTV bills, salaries of some workers, taxi fares, micro-credit, savings and micro-insurance.
According to the World Bank, mobile money is now arguably the most accessible form of financial service, where about 99 percent of Ghanaians are aware of at least one provider. Statistics from the Bank of Ghana, BoG, indicates that active mobile money accounts increased from 8.3 million in 2016 to 11.11 million in 2017. The marked increase in mobile money usage is not unique to Ghana. Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa have also registered significant growth in mobile money transactions. From a modest start in 2009, mobile money now accounts for cash flows that compare with aggregate deposits of commercial banks in the country.
The registered mobile money accounts across the three major telecommunication companies have outstripped the country’s total population. Data from the BoG’s Payment System show that the registered number of mobile money accounts increased from 21.36 million in June 2017 to 29.99 million in June 2018. The rapid growth in mobile money usage in Ghana is partly on account of increasing penetration and application of mobile phones particularly in the rural areas. To further create convenience, and rope in mobile money users into the financial ecology, the government created a system to ensure interoperability among the various mobile money operators.
According to the BoG, the total transaction volume under the Interoperability System was over ¢2.2 million Ghana Ceids in 2018. The interoperability system serves as a viable vehicle for financial intermediation. Businesses and individuals can accept mobile money from other network users easily.
Apart from extending financial services to the poor, mobile money improve productivity by increasing efficiencies, lowering the cost of transactions, generating new employment opportunities and creating a platform on which other businesses can grow. Mobile money provide an opportunity for banks, other deposit-taking financial institutions and insurance companies to cross-sell banking, insurance and other financial products. The Government’s plan to set up cyber security fund to ensure a safe information technological ecosystem is laudable. Estimates from the mobile money industry show that 50% of the mobile money subscribers have either experienced fraud or are targets for fraudsters. Statistics from the Cybercrime Unit of the Criminal Investigations Department indicates that, in 2016 Ghana lost about 25.8 million Dollars, with 8.4 million dollars in the form of business compromises.
Operators of the mobile money service must ensure customer protection by operating in accordance with the rules set out in the BoG’s Guidelines and within the principles of transparency, responsible pricing, fair and respectful treatment of clients. They must address the challenges of system interruptions, complex user interface, insufficient liquidity at agent points and validation of customer registration ID. Network operators need to enhance their systems and operations to check occasional network failures which hamper business transactions. Government must provide the enabling environment to reduce transaction costs, stimulate competition, and promote pro-financial inclusion policies. There must be adequate room for all stakeholders in the mobile money setting to partake and have a win-win for all.
Policy-makers, mobile money operators, donors and other industry players in Ghana must pay attention to collaborations for financial deepening towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs One and Nine.
BY DR. ERIC AKOBENG AN ECONOMIST.