The New York Times is reporting on Bank of America going mobile, and BusinessWeek is doing the same for Barclays. That’s all well and good, but I doubt mobile banking has as much potential in the US and Europe as it does in places like Africa.
This brings me back to the issues that we find in Africa when it comes to opening up eCommerce to the continent. (For those interested, I first wrote about it a year ago here, and more here.) The base problem is that there are no options for entrepreneurs who don’t have some type of “connection” to get into the game. There is no way for them to build micro-credit or micro-debt. There is no way for them to accept payments by credit card.
The International Market Problem
A lady in Senegal weaves baskets that are highly in demand by US and European buyers. She even manages to get them up on eBay for sale. Though many are interested, none buy. Why? Because there is no way for her to accept payment. PayPal, eBay’s payment system, won’t work in Africa.
The Local eCommerce Market Problem
A team of bright young programmers in Uganda decide to create “the next eBay or Amazon for East Africa” application. It will be the trading platform used throughout the region. However, there’s a small problem. How will people pay for the goods? The final connection is again missing.
Okay, but how about some of these other services? What about the mobile payment options that are cropping up in South Africa, Kenya and some other countries?
Well, the problem there is that they are tied down locally to a particular carrier or bank. Again, the need for a platform agnostic system is greatly needed. Something that lets people without traditional banking needs get started. A secondary reason is that, thought they are a great step forward, they only answer the banking handled in a specific region. Many of those same transactions are still done in cash and there is little need for that mobile payment system.
At the end of the day, we might estimate that there are billions of dollars of commerce NOT being done in Africa, primarily because there is no means for the transaction to happen. The good news is that I’m convinced someone will move into this space soon and really start innovating. How could they not, when there is this much money being left on the table?
(Photo via Ken Banks Mobile Gallery of Kiwanja.net)