Mobile banking gains ground in DRC

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Kinshasa, DR Congo

Mobile banking is experiencing phenomenal growth in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it has helped revolutionise the payment of thousands of civil servants, and is being seen as a strong medication against the country’s ‘long illness’ of low rates of the banked population (0.01%) .

The figures are breathtaking and have delighted mobile operators, but caught industry watchers off-guard who believe that the country may need one more mobile operator to deal with the growing demand.

Close to 73 000 government employees are thought to have been paid through mobile banking in the past two years in the DRC, with more than 65 000 registered in the Airtel database alone, and the rest by Vodacom, according to independent statistics.

Airtel is also said to have doubled its uptake to about 130 000 in mid-2013.

Small business owners and informal traders, including hawkers and taximen, have joined the mobile banking chorus, and are now singing the praises of the service as if it was some manna coming down from heaven.

Alain Nzita, a hawker plying his trade at the Place de la Victoire in the vibrant township of Matonge, told Biztechafrica that his two mobile banking accounts have helped him save thousands of Congolese franc (the local currency). One US dollar is worth 925 Fc in the black market.

 “I have two cellphone numbers from two different networks, so I thought that opening two mobile banking accounts will be a good idea to help me  achieve my goals of the future,” he explained.

 “I cannot afford to open a bank account, it is too expensive to maintain and it’s very demanding,” he said.

Most banks in the DRC ask for about US$130 before opening a saving account, US$100 for the initial deposit and US$30 for the bank card. One SMS costs US$1.80, and every month customers are requested to pay US$5 as bank charge, besides the fee deducted when withdrawing money.

“Banks are for the rich people and mobile banking accounts are for people like us,” a taximan who calls himself Maitre John said, as commuters rushed to board his rundown mini-bus taxi in the outskirts of the capital Kinshasa.

Despite the lack of data to quantify the financial impact of DRC mobile banking, the rewards are nevertheless huge for sub-Saharan African mobile operators.

Revenues from mobile banking in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to increase from the current US$657 million to US$3.53 billion in 2017, according to a study conducted by Ecobank in 2013.

US market research Pyramid Research said that the total value of financial transactions carried out by mobile phone in Africa is expected to reach US$200 billion in 2015, or nearly 8% of the projected GDP.

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