Mobile financial services are expected to improve the lives of around two billion people in developing countries within a decade and boost economies, a Boston Consulting Group study found.
“Overall, mobile financial services can reduce financial exclusion by five per cent to 20 per cent through 2020 and increase gross domestic product by up to five per cent, ” the study said.
It added that improved access to finance fostered entrepreneurship, new business creation and new jobs.
The report, released by Norwegian telecom group Telenor on Tuesday, focused on five countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Serbia — which represented a broad development range, it said.
Some 72 per cent of the population in developing countries are without access to banks or credit cards, according to the study.
They work around this by borrowing from friends and family, obtaining short-term credit from employers, forming savings clubs or seek out moneylenders but these options were often risky, costly and with indeterminate results.
Telecoms firms such as Telenor, Vodafone, Orange and MTN have begun investing in mobile payment systems in Asia and Africa that allow consumers to make basic payments for utilities and participate in savings, credit and insurance programmes via mobile phones.
Mobile financial services can also help overcome economic setbacks such as natural disasters or unexpected medical emergencies, the study said.
In Kenya, Safaricom’s M-Pesa’s UAP Insurance insures poor farmers through mobile phones against weather-induced crop failures.
Norway’s Telenor said it was still early days but that the potential for growth was expected to be huge.
Telenor’s EasyPaisa programme in Pakistan started with 2,200 retail outlets in October 2009 and now has 12,600 retailers spread over 650 cities across the country.
It has about 10 million users and the total value of money transfers has reached 17.4 billion Pakistan rupees ($167.2 million). “We believe that mobile financial services will be one of the key drivers for financial inclusion going forward and thus has the potential to be the most powerful tool for economic and social development in emerging economies,” Telenor chief executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas said in a statement on Tuesday.