The Economist writes about the proliferation of mobile money across the African continent, high lighting some aspects of its rapid adoption by the local population – 96% of whom are on prepaid or pay as you go mobile subscriptions. A new survey of global financial habits by the Gates Foundation, the World Bank and Gallup World Poll found, among other things, that:
Most mobile-phone transactions are tiny. Market traders, for example, use mobile phones to pay peasant farmers for a single bag of cassava or maize-meal. One of the most successful mobile-phone products in Kenya is a SIM card costing just a few cents—but that is all people need for the occasional transaction.
In the informal economy, where the need to control one’s time (duration, frequency and periodicity) and money (cash or kind) was paramount, and where already the vast majority of mobile phone users are on prepaid accounts, these mobile money transfer systems offer the flexibility that those on irregular income streams need, in order to manage their finances effectively. No credit checks or payslips or reams of banking paperwork involved.
I saw this informality in the social measurements used in the market – rough approximations of quantity and estimates of weight. I wondered in a different post what this willingness to be flexible might imply – where neither the buyer nor the seller were concerned about exact weights and measures, allowing a communal decision on fair price to emerge instead. Now it strikes me that the underlying principle of flexibility is what makes all of these models work.