The Kenyan payments market is known for the success of M-Pesa, the m-payments provider which has taken the country by storm. The value of mobile payments in the country is equivalent to 11% of the country’s GDP, a figure which looks likely to grow. A survey conducted by CI on Kenya (see Kenya: A launchpad for financial inclusion) indicates mobile will surpass debit as the country’s preferred payment option by the end of this year.
But Kenya is about more than just m-payments. The country is developing into a hotspot for electronic payments and is likely to become a hub for wider growth in east Africa. The reasons are structural, demographic and political.
The explosive growth of M-Pesa and m-payments in Kenya has sometimes overshadowed the excellent progress made more generally in the country’s payments market. Debit card usage has developed almost in sync with the mobile channel and registered growth close to 1,000% since 2004, according to central bank data.
The number of ATMs, POS terminals and, more recently, prepaid cards have also increased at an impressive rate. Credit cards have been the only real disappointment. Lower income workers in the country are averse to taking on debt, which is in part why prepaid e-wallets have caught on to such an extent in the mobile payments space.
Demographically and economically, the country is well positioned, with an average age of just 18 and expectations of reasonable medium-term GDP growth. Young populations are willing to embrace innovation and technology and have long working lives ahead of them to become wealthier and consume more banking products and services.
Politically, Kenya is renowned as one of the most peaceful and stable African states. It has signed an agreement with fellow east African countries Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda to harmonise payment systems and, eventually, to enter a monetary union, scheduled for 2012.
The timeline looks ambitious, and it would be inaccurate to say there are no obstacles to building thriving economies and payments systems in east Africa. The riots during Kenya’s 2008 elections, in which 124 people died, were an unwelcome reminder that the country is not immune from civil unrest.
Still, the country and its neighbours are showing encouraging signs in the integration process. The payments industry will have an important roll to play in making sure the economic potential is turned into reality.