HomeSend Remittance Program Targets Mobile to Battle Cash in Ethiopia

Earlier this week it was announced that HomeSend—a joint venture of Mastercard, eServ Global, and BICS that works to ease cross-border or cross-network transfers—partnered with the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia to launch a new remittance program in the country.

Remittance is estimated to be a $3.5 billion—with a B—market in Ethiopia, and the money transferred is used for things like housing, healthcare, and education. There’s one pretty huge problem with the current system, though: until this point, recipients of the money had to withdraw it in cash only.

That’s a massive problem because cash is an expensive, time-consuming, hard to manage resource–it’s the Big Bad for companies like Mastercard, in other words, who clearly does not hold with the old theory that it’s just as good as money.

It’s also the driving force, according to Daniel Monehin, Division President, Sub-Saharan Africa, Mastercard (who was kind enough to explain the new program while also giving me a crash course in economics) behind the huge “shadow” or “grey” economy in Ethiopia and other East African countries.

“One of the things that drives what we do is this shadow economy; it’s one of the banes of development,” says Monehin, noting that while the shadow economy in countries like the U.S. is around 6% of the formal GDP, and in Canada or the UK it hovers around 7-8%, the percentage in emerging markets can be as high as 75% . In Nigeria, for example, the shadow economy is as big as the whole South African formal economy.  “The formal economy is almost outranked by this gray economy that does not pay taxes, does not listen to government, and its lifeblood is cash.”

The goal of HomeSend’s remittance program, which will allow upwards of 100 million Ethiopian residents to send money to any mobile number in the country, is to cut this lifeblood off at the source—in Monehin’s words, the moment a transaction is completed electronically, it’s formalized.

Launching a program specifically designed for mobile payments also provides Ethiopian residents with more opportunity for financial growth and inclusion, as while 22% of Ethiopians have bank accounts, the country’s mobile penetration is upwards of 80%, and according to Monehin, many of those with mobile phones also have mobile wallets.

This is a strategy that has already played out well for HomeSend and Mastercard in countries like Kenya, where HomeSend is the largest homebound remittance provider to M-PESA—the world’s most successful P2P platform, ten years old and counting. With M-PESA, people transferring money can send it directly to the recipient’s M-PESA wallet, eliminating the need to physically go to a location and withdraw cash; exactly the outcome HomeSend is hoping to see in Ethiopia.

“The more an economy embraces electronic payments, the better the economy is managed,” says Monehin. “This opens up options, creates transparency, and all of that leads to financial inclusion.”

To learn more about mobile or P2P payments, join us at Bank Innovation Israel in Tel Aviv on Nov. 1-3.Register here.

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