• Mobile money has become highly prevalent in so-called under- or unbanked areas like the majority of Africa.
  • It enables users to pay for electrical bills and day-to-day shopping with their mobile phone, without the need to connect it to a bank account.
  • The sub-Saharan section of the African continent heavily relies on mobile money, with 548 million registered accounts across 157 providers.
  • North Africa, Europa and Central Asia, only have a combined seven million active mobile money accounts and a transaction value of roughly $15 billion.
  • In 2020, Africans exchanged $490 billion using mobile money providers alone.

By raising 200 million U.S. dollars in its Series A round, Senegal-based fintech startup Wave has become the fourth unicorn on the African continent. It is now valued at 1.7 billion U.S. dollars, becoming the second freshly-minted fintech unicorn out of the continent in the span of only two weeks after Nigeria's OPay. As our chart indicates, the rise of mobile payment providers in sub-Saharan Africa is unlikely to stop anytime soon.

According to the 2020 report by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), the sub-Saharan section of the African continent heavily relies on mobile money, with 548 million registered and 159 million active accounts across 157 providers. North Africa, Europa and Central Asia, on the other hand, only have a combined seven million active mobile money accounts and a transaction value of roughly 15 billion U.S. dollars. Sub-Saharan Africa easily dwarfs this number: In 2020, Africans exchanged 490 billion U.S. dollars using mobile money providers alone.

a chart showing the prevalence of mobile money in different regions of the world
Mobile money has become highly prevalent in under or unbanked areas.
Image: Statista

What is the World Economic Forum doing about digital trade?

What is the World Economic Forum doing about digital trade?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – driven by rapid technological change and digitalization – has already had a profound impact on global trade, economic growth and social progress. Cross-border e-commerce has generated trillions of dollars in economic activity continues to accelerate and the ability of data to move across borders underpins new business models, boosting global GDP by 10% in the last decade alone.

The application of emerging technologies in trade looks to increase efficiency and inclusivity in global trade by enabling more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to repeat its benefits and by closing the economic gap between developed and developing countries.

However, digital trade barriers including outdated regulations and fragmented governance of emerging technologies could potentially hamper these gains. We are leading the charge to apply 4IR technologies to make international trade more inclusive and efficient, ranging from enabling e-commerce and digital payments to designing norms and trade policies around emerging technologies (‘TradeTech’).

Mobile money describes payment services operated via a mobile device instead of credit or debit cards, cheques or cash. It has become especially prevalent in so-called under- or unbanked areas like a majority of Africa and large parts of Asia, enabling its residents to pay everything from electrical bills to day-to-day shopping with their mobile phone, without the need to connect it to an existing bank account. The growth expectations of this market have attracted public and private funding by organisations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Mercy Corps, among others.