Mobile Money Transfers, Remittances, Wallets
Leaf is a blockchain-based digital wallet that provides cross-border financial services on a mobile device—no smartphone required. Designed for cross-border traders, displaced refugees, and migrants, Leaf currently operates in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda over USSD and a smartphone app for iOS and Android. With Leaf, users can store their money safely, send peer-to-peer domestically and internationally, make payments to and from any mobile money number (currently in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda) and exchange between currencies. Leaf is currently integrated to licensed payment aggregators and payment service providers to allow customers to cash in and cash out of their wallets using mobile money.
Leaf sometimes gets confused with mobile money (provided by telco operators like Safaricom, MTN, and Airtel) and money remittance companies (World Remit, Western Union, MoneyGram, etc.). The information below outlines each service and how Leaf is similar and different from each. Leaf is integrated into mobile money providers and allows customers to cross borders with a wallet more convenient and less expensive than traditional money remittance companies.
According to the IMF, mobile money is a digital medium of exchange and store of value facilitated by mobile network operators and mobile money does not require a bank account, only a mobile phone.1 Shortly put: it’s money tied to your SIM card. You can use it to make peer-to-peer transactions on the same network and pay local merchants. Today there are over 1.35 billion registered mobile money accounts processing $1 trillion USD in value annually.2 Not just a strong business, mobile money is advancing financial inclusion in emerging markets while shrinking the gender usage gap.
Mobile Money: What Is The Opportunity?
Mobile money has been deployed and become widely used in 98 countries, allowing users to make financial transactions digitally through a mobile phone.3 Mobile money provides a massive opportunity to increase accessible capital to a previously unbanked population with few service options. Last year (2021) in East Africa, registered mobile money accounts grew by 15% to 296 million and transaction volume grew by 22% to 24 billion transactions.3 In Rwanda, the value of mobile money transactions grew by 206% in 2020, largely because of digital adoption during COVID-19.4 Tanzania saw a 10% increase in mobile money subscribers in just the first quarter of 2022.5
Advantages of Mobile Money
- Digitized assets increase security
- Reduced transaction costs relative to banks and legacy remittance companies
- Decreases physical cash transactions, reducing transmission of disease
- Minimal fees for account opening and maintenance
- Minimal documentation requirement upon account opening
- Massive amount of transaction data to help form economic identities
Disadvantages of Mobile Money
- As mobile money is operated by telecoms, there is a lack of interoperability across networks
- Mobile money is almost strictly domestic and generally does not allow funds to cross borders or exchange currencies
- The user is usually not able to see their full transaction history
- Lacks transparency
- Transaction fees can still be expensive, especially when sending small amounts between peers
How Do I Start Using Mobile Money?
A mobile money account can be opened by going to an agent or retail location of the local telecom mobile network operator (MNO) and registering for an account. The account is linked to a phone number and the service is embedded in the SIM card. Once set up, funds can be transferred to different mobile money users. Funds can also be sent, received, and deposited with an agent and digitally debited/credited to an account. For example: when depositing, the mobile money customer gives their cash to a telecom agent and instantly receives a credit of mobile money in exchange.
Are Mobile Money Transfers Immediate?
The short answer is, it depends. Peer-to-peer transactions and merchant payments are usually processed within one minute. If the sender sends from a bank account, the entire transaction lifecycle can take longer (up to 3-5 days).
Are Mobile Money Transfers Safe?
Mobile money transfers are safe as long as the account owner keeps their PIN private and does not lose their mobile phone/SIM card. Funds sent over mobile money are safely stored in a trust account held with a bank on behalf of the telecom operator. The user can contact the telecom in case of disputes.
Best Services for Receiving Mobile Money Transfers in East Africa
- Leaf Wallet
- Western Union
- Leaf Wallet
- MTN Uganda
- Airtel Money
- Leaf Wallet
- MTN Rwanda
- Airtel Money
What Are Digital International Remittances? How Do They Work?
Remittances sent by migrant workers to and within Africa were worth about $85 billion USD in 2021, with roughly 75% of the funds dedicated to food, education, and healthcare.6 Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 6.2% to $45 billion USD in 2021 (mostly from US and Europe).6 However, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be one of the most expensive regions in the world to send money; it can cost 8.2% to send USD $200.7 New players and increased competition in Africa will undoubtedly benefit consumers over time but there is still significant room for improvement. Migrants are a primary beneficiary of remittances, and East Africa hosts the largest share of international migrants who reside in Africa (30%).8
Who are the major providers of remittance services from the US and EU to Africa?
- Western Union
- World Remit
Though there has been impressive growth in mobile money and remittances recently (even in the midst of a pandemic), remittance flows are not following migration trends as expected. This is partially due to 40% of mobile money providers not offering international remittance services.10 Additionally, major players in the international remittance space focus on transactions originating in the US and Europe. The combination of mobile money being predominantly domestic and legacy international remittance companies focused on the US and Europe leaves people conducting intra-Africa transactions few options. This leads people to utilize a less secure, unpredictable informal market.
An estimated 50% of remittances within Africa take place in the informal sector, meaning cash is carried across borders either by the sender or entrusted to someone who happens to be traveling to the recipient’s country.11 The aspects usually factored into this decision include: cost, speed, accessibility, and trust. Carrying cash can be dangerous, inconvenient, and expensive to convert to foreign currencies (especially in small amounts). Many people who want to send $200 or less across borders safely and securely do not have fast or affordable options.
At the crossroads of mobile money and digital remittances is Leaf Wallet. Leaf Wallet allows customers to benefit from local networks of mobile money agents and pay less for cross-border transactions. Leaf Wallet is available today in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, and we are working tirelessly to add new countries. Leaf integrates with mobile money and allows the funds to travel with the user wherever they go.
Leaf is designed to mimic existing mobile money wallets in order to adapt to the average financial literacy level of its users. Leaf is also near-instant and inexpensive. Anyone can access their Leaf Wallet by feature phone/basic phone via USSD, allowing users in areas of low connectivity to always have access to their funds. Even smartphone users can access Leaf’s USSD application. It requires zero data or internet connection and does not drain battery life. With Leaf, users can transact across borders at a competitive foreign exchange rate and a 2% cash-out fee.
To get started on Leaf, a user creates an account and receives a response in 3-5 minutes. Then the user pulls mobile money into their Leaf Wallet through the mobile application or local USSD code, via the “Cash In” option. The user can then send their money to other Leaf Wallet accounts for free in their own country or across borders, exchange currencies, buy airtime, or cash out through mobile money. Leaf combines the speed and low cost nature of mobile money with the ability to exchange funds across borders like a remittance company.
Fees & Exchange Rates
- Leaf-to-Leaf transactions are free
- Cashing in is free (putting funds on the wallet)
- Cashing out (taking funds out) has a 2% charge to the user
- Leaf’s exchange rates when exchanging currencies within a wallet or sending to another user in a different currency are competitive with remittance providers
Fintech use cases are expanding with the rapid growth of mobile money and lower cost of remittances. Millions of people are transitioning to the digital economy, shrinking the socioeconomic gap. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, the importance of digital financial services will only increase. By integrating with mobile money and expanding the breadth of traditional remittances to support intra-continental transfers, Leaf will continue to serve a wide array of customers with cross-border financial needs.
Sources: all third party information obtained from applicable websites as of June 3, 2022
This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to address every aspect of the matters discussed herein. The information in this article is not intended as specific personal advice. The information in this article does not constitute legal, tax, regulatory or other professional advice from Leaf Global Fintech Corporation and its affiliates (collectively, “IDT”), and should not be taken or used as such by any individual. IDT makes no representation, warranty or guaranty, whether express or implied, that the content in this article is current, accurate, or complete. You should obtain professional or other substantive advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the information in this article.