New collection of m-banking papers
Vodafone, Nokia, and Nokia-Siemens Networks have released a new collection of papers on m-banking in the developing world, called “The transformational potential of m-transactions”. As was the case with Vodafone’s earlier collection on mobile phones in Africa, the report has attracted a fair amount of attention (e.g., Economist, NYT, blog1, blog2). The word “transformational” makes a few more appearances than some might prefer, but all and all, it is a great addition to a small but growing literature on m-banking.
Three of the six core papers deal with regulatory and business model issues. One contrasts some of the leading systems (m-Pesa, Wizzit, and Globe) in more detail. The remaining two describe user-level experiences with systems in Kenya and Egypt.
The more granular user data is found in the piece by Walia and Goodman on Airtime Services in Egypt. Airtime transfer is sort of a cousin/antecedent to currency-based m-banking; it allows users to share load between accounts, which opens up all kinds of opportunities to share, barter and transact in real time. I am unaware of any other detailed surveys of airtime transfer behavior, so I was happy to see their segmentation of airtime sharers into “heavy users”, “sharers”, “receivers”, and “light users”. Their paper points to some of differences in norms and expectations at play between, say, proximate families sharing minutes, émigrés sending minutes back home to their families, and business partners using airtime as a proxy for currency (which the authors point out is the exception, not the norm). One of Walia and Goodman’s propositions is that “balance transfer use supports social networks”. Probably so, although as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’d like to see more attention paid to how social networks support and structure balance transfer use.