June 14, 2010

Commentary : Mobile Banking Hope for Haiti

It was not long ago that people around the world were using their mobile phones to distribute aid money via SMS to charities working with those affected by the Haiti earthquake. Now, we’re looking at a new kind of mobile aid for Haiti. Last week the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it is launching a $10 million fund for mobile banking services in the country.

The earthquake destroyed over one-third of the country’s banks, ATMs and money transfer stations leading to a severe cash shortage for the survivors. This meant that there were severe problems for those remaining in the country to access cash which might have been in their accounts or which was being transferred by relatives overseas. In fact, despite the recovery of many of the traditional banking institutions in Haiti, only 15% of Haitians had a bank account prior to the disaster so their requirements extend beyond the rebuilding of a physical bank branch.

As most Haitians have access to a mobile phone, the most obvious solution seems to be the establishment of a mobile banking system.

In March 2010 BuzzCity completed a research project into the state of the current mobile banking sector and consumer requirements for such services. We found that 29% of those surveyed did not have a bank account and as many as 56% did not have access to a debit or credit card – our research shows that there is clearly a need for mobile banking services and yet not many companies out there are providing it. Hopefully with the announcement of this new fund, companies will prioritise the development of such services and roll them out to those in need across the world, not just in Haiti. The full details of the BuzzCity survey can be viewed here.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation fund will be split between providers successfully implementing mobile banking strategies - $2.5 million will go to the first company to launch a service meeting certain targets within six months, $1.5 million will go to the second and the remaining $6 million will be passed on to the firm/firms which process the first five million transactions.