More than 1-billion people worldwide lack bank accounts, but do have mobile phones, providing a dramatic opportunity to achieve greater financial inclusion.
And, despite regulatory challenges and the financial crisis, policymakers are embracing mobile banking as a means of providing financial access to the unbanked poor, according to officials meeting near London today.
"Mobile banking services offer millions of poor people a route out of poverty by helping them to improve their incomes and pay for healthcare and education," says Mike Foster, UK Minister for International Development. "It is vital that policymakers ensure that the needs of the poor are central as they develop regulation for this innovative and emerging sector."
To promote effective regulation of mobile banking, CGAP, DFID, and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) have organised the second Global Leadership Seminar for high-level policymakers and regulators who set policy for branchless banking, including mobile banking.
"Mobile banking holds great potential, and CGAP is encouraged to see that governments everywhere are being deliberate and thoughtful as they merge the domains of finance, payments, and telecom to create a framework that balances customer needs with concerns around security and prudential regulation," says Elizabeth Littlefield, CEO of CGAP, a microfinance centre based at the World Bank.
Seminar participants represent countries where branchless banking is growing quickly, or is poised to do so soon: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, India, Kenya, Maldives, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Mobile banking is a triangle, with customers and providers joined by local merchants that act as the crucial interface between poor people's electronic value on their phone and the cash economy in which they live.
Special challenges these services present for policymakers include the following:
* Allowing non-bank third parties, such as local merchants, to conduct "cash-in/cash-out" transactions and interact directly with customers;
* Adapting the anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism rules (AML-CFT) so they are based on real risks and are adapted to the realities of transactions conducted through remote agents;
* Figuring out the right regulatory space for the issuance of e-money and other stored-value instruments (particularly when issued by parties other than fully licensed and supervised banks);
* Determining how to ensure effective consumer protection on a variety of fronts;
* Making sure payment systems are open to all players and adequately supervised; and
* Getting the balance right in competition policies – the right incentives for pioneers to get into the branchless banking business without allowing customer-unfriendly monopolies.