How GSMA Is Driving Microfinance and Mobile Banking Worldwide

GSMA, the primary global association for the mobile industry, has for years been laying the groundwork for mobile payments and microfinancing, and it has played an important role in making both options realistic for developing countries.

If the GSMA wasn’t around, it’s likely that microfinance—the sending and receiving of small donations, which is most popular in developing nations—would still exist, and mobile banking would still also be catching on in the developing world.

But neither would likely be as sophisticated and advanced as they are today.

GSMA, which is the world’s largest association focused on mobile devices, has focused on payments as a part of its long-running Connected Society Programme, designed to improve outcomes in the developing world through the use of mobile technology. Both mobile payments and microfinancing are large parts of that.

The head of GSMA’s charitable foundation, Lawrence Yanovitch, said he believes there’s much potential for the mobile industry’s infrastructure to improve microfinance offerings globally.

“At the GSMA Foundation, we believe that once low-income customers have access to mobile money services, a range of additional financial products become affordable. In the future, we see many opportunities for the integration of microfinance and mobile money services,” Yanovitch wrote in 2014.

With mobile money offerings like M-Pesa quickly becoming popular in countries like Kenya and Romania, there’s potential to improve things even further. As a Quartz article from earlier this month aptly put it, “Fintech isn’t disrupting Africa’s financial industry—it’s building it.”

An important part of GSMA’s role in improving the status of money-lending and banking in developing nations has been the creation of standards that the mobile industry closely follows.

In 2014, the association first introduced a code of conduct for money management through mobile devices that emphasizes that any offering should “safeguard customer funds against risk of loss.” Last month, the group introduced new self-assessment tools to further help mobile providers ensure they are in compliance with the standards. The association’s Janet Shulist noted that more than half of all 134 million mobile money accounts in 2015 were offered by companies that followed the standards.

GSMA’s work, which has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since at least 2009, has often been praised. In an op-ed for the Japan Times, Mark Malloch Brown, a former U.N. deputy secretary-general and chair of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, recently credited GSMA’s work as improving local economies in rural areas:

With mobile phones, farmers can quickly find information ranging from seed prices to weather patterns and have immediate access to the funds they need to complete transactions. This mobile-enabled information leads to better decision-making, saving the farmers money and boosting their resilience to extreme weather patterns and droughts. And of course mobile providers benefit as well from operating in an expanded rural market.

But some skeptics do exist. A Reuters story from last October notes that usage of mobile money accounts varies widely around the world, with some using them to simply top-up their existing accounts—leading some industry consultants to be less keen on mobile money’s growth. But the article also highlights the potential of such accounts through a quote from Kenyan consultant Daniel Maison, who praised M-Pesa in the story.

“It’s a part of our lives. We wonder what we did without it. I don’t need to physically have cash. The beauty is you can even have a savings account on your mobile phone,” Maison said.

A M-Pesa stand in Kenya. (Fiona Bradley/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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