New IFC, Mastercard Foundation study examines attitudes to mobile money in Africa

Buyer with smartphone paying through terminal

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and the Mastercard Foundation has  published an ethnographic study on the perceptions and attitudes to digital financial services in Sub-Saharan Africa. The study will increase financial inclusion by helping financial services providers better understand the user of African digital financial services (DFS).

The report, A Sense of Inclusion: An Ethnographic Study of the Perceptions and Attitudes to Digital Financial Services in Sub-Saharan Africa, is based on research conducted at the Africa Studies Center Leiden, University of Leiden. The study focuses on four countries of varying degrees of DFS market maturity: Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Zambia. It is a knowledge product of the Partnership for Financial inclusion, a $37.4 million joint initiative of IFC and the Mastercard Foundation, to advance financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lesley Denyes, IFC’s Program Manager for the Partnership for Financial Inclusion, said, “This research really gives a voice to the users of mobile money and agent banking in Africa. It’s based on observation and personal stories rather than aggregated statistics, and gives us a vivid idea of what lies behind the success of digital financial services on the continent and what the current challenges are to further expand financial inclusion.”

Ruth Dueck-Mbeba, Senior Program Manager at the Mastercard Foundation, said, “We are particularly pleased to see this latest publication from the Partnership for Financial Inclusion, and its focus on clients. The report seeks to understand the underlying barriers to the use of digital financial services, and the drivers that build client trust in those services. With this deeper understanding, we can give clients voice.”

Since digital financial services were first introduced in Sub-Saharan Africa about ten years ago, the continent has taken a lead in the global evolution of a mass market for affordable, accessible and sustainable financial services for low-income people, rural populations and small-scale entrepreneurs in emerging markets. There are now over 277 million registered users on the continent, with about 100 million active accounts, almost 60 percent of the global total (GSMA). In countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, the use of digital financial services has led to a near doubling of the financial inclusion rate.

The report provides an in-depth description of what digital financial inclusion means in relation to social and cultural factors. One of the interesting findings relates to how digital payments interact with extended family structures and financial obligations within social networks. Some DFS users have found, for example, that the immediate accessibility of mobile transactions makes it difficult for them to escape unwanted solicitations for financial aid from distant family members.

“Now, with the development of money transfers, whenever a family member asks for money, you need to make it clear – either you have money or you don’t. You can no longer claim you can’t get it to them because if you say that, the person will answer that you should send it by Wari, Joni-Joni, etc.,” a policeman and DFS service user in Louga, Senegal, told the researchers.

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