A new World Bank-Gallup poll shows that the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are the world’s leaders in sending, spending, and saving money via phone.
While it would be easy to assume that using your phone to pay for things is for hipsters and techies, the results of a World Bank survey released in April 2015 shows just how wrong you’d be.
There’s actually been more growth in mobile banking — or using a phone-based account as a means to store or transfer money — among users in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world.
That’s according to the results of the latest version of the Global Findex — an international survey the World Bank and Gallup conduct to see how people save and access their money.
In a many of the more remote parts of the countries in the region, it’s difficult to have access to any form of banking at all, preventing workers from saving their wages and requiring cash for most purchases. But, as a CNBC article noted in 2013, cell phone ownership and usage in Africa “jumped from 3% in 2002 to 48% in 2010 and is expected to hit 72%next year 2016.”
That uptick is reflected in the new Findex. The first version of the Findex, published in 2011, showed that 24% of adults in the region had some form of account to store their money. Three years later, that’s grown to 34%. While that may not seem like a lot, it’s a difference of millions of people.
Mobile banking has been a huge driver of that growth. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only of the World Bank’s regions where more than 10% of adults report having a mobile account, according to the Bank.
Sixty-four million of the region’s adults — or 12% — have mobile accounts, compared to just 2% globally.
Forty-five percent of the people surveyed only had a mobile account as a way to transfer funds.
That — along with the such eyebrow-raising facts like that in Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe more adults now have a mobile account than an account at an actual bank — shows a huge gain in the number of people with access to banking.
“This is a gamechanger,” Leora Klapper, Lead Economist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group and lead author of the Global Findex, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News.
In the past, an informal network of cell phone airtime minutes being bought and sent and cashed out acted like a payment system. Now telecoms companies are offering formal accounts for people to store and transfer money on their network.
Among the most surprising pieces of data the survey found: while there’s huge disparities in Kenya and Tanzania between the rich and the poor having bank account, there’s zero gap between them when it comes to mobile accounts.
In addition to saving money, it’s changing how people spend money, as this World Bank-produced video shows.