The chief of Ethiopian mobile money provider M-Birr tipped the sector for huge growth following a change in regulation, but warned prospective new players barriers remained due to a fixation on use of physical cash.
In an interview with Mobile World Live, M-Birr MD Thierry Artaud said the provider was currently in the process of raising funds to expand its service. It is targeting a base of 26 million customers within five years, alongside a network of around 450,000 transaction points across the country.
Set-up for the service began in 2009: in the years since, the company signed-up 1.8 million users and a network of almost 33,000 points-of-presence covering branches, agents and other merchants.
As major mobile operator groups tussle to enter the country’s telecoms market and potentially eye a role in the mobile money sector at the same time, Artaud said the company would welcome partnerships and even competition as it would help expand the ecosystem.
“Incoming telcos who do launch mobile money will create a bit of emotion in the market,” he added. “This will help financial inclusion and digital finance in general, and therefore benefit all parties, so we would see that as a positive development.”
Regulatory changes were announced in the country in 2019 to open the mobile money sector to new players. However, as they currently stand, there are still restrictions on non-domestic companies which could cause major issues for incoming operator groups.
Even if new mobile entrants are allowed to add mobile money, Artaud warned it “will not be a fast and quick affair” adding a “cash mindset” had hampered its own growth thus far, and was an area which would need to be addressed.
“The biggest barrier to a massive growth in M-Birr was the regulatory aspect, which is now fixed, and people’s mindsets being set on cash. Not just consumers but also the business community where everything works on cash.”
“One of the reasons for that is a lack of infrastructure”, he added, noting there was still no interoperability between different banks’ payment systems.
To deliver nationwide account-to-account interoperability Artaud said M-Birr had to work with its financial institution partners to create its own payment and settlement switch in the absence of a central system.