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The rise of mobile banking services, powerless in the face of crises in the countries of the South

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To make ugali, this traditional dish that is part of the staple diet in East Africa, every Kenyan today needs two ingredients: corn flour and their mobile phone. Because it is with the latter that he will be able to pay for his shopping at the market, pay his gas bill to operate his stove, all thanks to the money that his brother, who has left to work in town, will have sent to him, again on his mobile. In Kenya, eight out of ten adults have an e-money account – mobile money, in English – which is often their only point of contact with formal finance. Although ahead, Kenya is far from being an exception in the developing world: in the last ten years, according to the World Bank, more than 1 billion people have been able to access banking services for the first time through the world, mainly thanks to the mobile phone.

Read also: Banking services: “Financial institutions are replicating mechanisms that have always existed”

But, after a decade of progress, so-called “inclusive” finance is coming up against a new reality, that of a developing world beset by crises. Energy crisis of course, faced with the increase in the cost of fossil fuels, which are widely used in these countries. Climate crisis too, with an increase in natural disasters. Food crisis, especially since the main granaries of the world are subject to the vagaries of war. Monetary crisis finally, in countries heavily dependent on the dollar and therefore weakened by its inexorable rise in recent months.

Can the boom in financial services over the past decade enable the poorest populations – who are also those who suffer the most from these crises – to find solutions to their difficulties? In Kenya, where queues are getting longer to buy maize flour, does having a phone in your pocket really make a difference? Given the current challenges, the results of financial inclusion therefore seem much more uncertain.

In several aspects, the latter appears as a source of resilience. “The simple fact of having an account, bank or mobile, provides a response to shocks because it allows the person to receive aid, whether public – through social transfers – or private – thanks to the support of relatives “, highlights Sophie Sirtaine, managing director of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a think tank hosted by the World Bank dedicated to financial inclusion. These safety nets work best when they do not need to transit in the form of cash. “During crises, the mobile moneysuch as Orange Money [le service de transfert d’argent et de paiement mobile du groupe Orange]allows money to continue to flow, salaries to be paid, less affected populations to help those most affected”abounds Patrick Roussel, director of financial services for the Middle East and Africa of the French group.

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