Mobile money has continued its steady expansion in Côte d’Ivoire, with mobile network operators (MNOs) offering an increasing range of digital financial services. According to GSMA, a London-based trade body representing operators worldwide, in 2017 the country had the fifth-highest mobile money penetration rate in the world and the first in West Africa.
Although cash remains the preferred method of transaction due to low digital literacy and high costs of technologies, growth in mobile money users saw a 14.78% year-on-year increase in the first quarter of 2018, surpassing 11m users, according to the Telecommunications/ICT Regulation Authority of Côte d’Ivoire. The market is divided among three MNOs – Orange, MTN and MOOV with market shares of 54%, 34% and 12%, respectively – and two over-the-counter institutions, CelPaid and Qash Services, which primarily offer remittances and payment services. Some banks also offer their own mobile money services (see Banking chapter). In 2018 the sector saw CFA17bn (€25.9m) worth of daily transactions take place, nearly tripling from CFA6bn (€9m) per day in 2014. Over one-third of mobile banking transactions in UEMOA countries occur in Côte d’Ivoire.
Mobile money is a significant driver of financial inclusion, as it is perceived by the population as being more affordable and safer than traditional bank accounts. According to the World Bank’s “2017 Global Findex” report, the share of adults having a formal financial institution account stagnated at around 15% between 2014 and 2017; however, the percentage of those with access to financial services expanded from 34.3% to about 41% in 2017, driven by mobile money adoption which rose from 24.3% to 34.1% over this four-year period.
This rapid growth can be attributed to the vast network of mobile money agents in the country, as prohibitive high costs associated with brick-and-mortar infrastructure has prevented financial institutions from making inroads. In 2016 there were over 40,149 mobile agents and 605 bank branches in the country.
E-AGRI: Financial inclusion is being driven by the widespread expansion of infrastructure related to IT, as well as other sectors. In May 2018 the World Bank granted the country a CFA37.28bn (€55.9m) loan for the extension of digital networks in rural areas and the development of sustainable agriculture. The loan is part of the government’s e-agriculture programme, the goal of which is to boost productivity through the inclusion of tech-based solutions. The modernisation of the agriculture sector – which accounts for 18% of GDP, employs one out of every four people and represents 60% of total exports – has the potential to provide substantial benefits.
MNOs historically provided mobile money in partnership with banks until a UEMOA regulation in 2015 allowed other players to offer the product, provided they obtain a licence from the Central Bank of West African States. Since then, MNOs moved from delivering basic money transfers to offering a wide range of banking services including loans, savings and insurance products.
According to a 2018 survey by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of 34 leading organisations that seeks to advance financial inclusion, around 44% of the population had never used a formal financial service as of late 2017. However, the expansion of services available in combination with spreading awareness of potential benefits could be one way to reach more customers. For instance, in 2016 two MNOs began offering cashless payment services – MTN launched MoMo Tap and Orange started marketing Passer C Payer – allowing customers to pay for goods and services or receive change. This is beneficial as in the past a lack of cash for change in shops has been a common issue.
In February 2018 MTN partnered with Bridge Bank Group Côte d’Ivoire to launch MoMo Kash, the first micro-lending and micro-saving services on mobile in the country. According to the CGAP survey, as of late 2017 only 2% of the population had ever had a loan at a financial institution; however, some 60% of the population was willing to take a digital loan. Furthermore, CGAP found that three out of four Ivorians reported saving money. Although most of the savings are made up of cash at home, mobile money accounts are 4.5 times more popular than banks and nine times more so than micro-finance institutions.
In July 2018 Orange announced the introduction of the first credit card for withdrawals and payments on its Orange Money service. Orange Money users are now able to withdraw funds from ATMs and pay directly with their card on any payment terminal.
Despite these advances in market offerings, according to the CGAP, mobile money accounts are most widely used for basic services such as depositing, withdrawing, transferring and saving as well as paying phone bills; while less than 5% of respondents had ever used their accounts for loans, paying or receiving wages, or taking out insurance products.
Although gradually decreasing, remittance costs in sub-Saharan Africa remain the highest in the world at 9.4% on average compared to a global average of 7.2%. Nevertheless, one of the cheapest corridors in the world is between Côte d’Ivoire and Mali that stood at 2.9% in 2017, according to data from the World Bank. With a common currency and a single central bank governing the UEMOA, the presence of a substantial West African diaspora in Côte d’Ivoire has provided fertile ground for the development of cross-border money transfer solutions, driven by an increasing collaboration between MNOs. Present in a variety of countries across the region, Orange was the first operator to offer money transfers among Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal in 2013. A year later the firm managed a quarter of formal money transfers between the three countries. MTN, which partnered with Airtel in Burkina Faso in 2014, saw the value of transfers increase 10 times in its first nine months of operation, reaching $9.1m in February 2015.
The government of Côte d’Ivoire has also made efforts to incorporate more modern payment solutions. In 2011 the Ministry of National and Technical Education of Côte d’Ivoire launched a pilot project in Abidjan – allowing digital payments for secondary school tuition with MTN’s CelPaid – which resulted in 675,000 students taking advantage of the electronic system. In 2014 the programme was rolled out on a nationwide basis and made mandatory, resulting in the digital payment of 99% of secondary school fees, 94% of which were made by mobile money, that year.
In July 2018 the government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Visa to digitise government services and devise e-payment solutions to allow for easier transfer of money to the state. As outlined in the MoU, Visa will implement a strategy that includes integrating mobile push and digital payment systems for student scholarships, state-employee wages and the postal service, as well as 1.1m producers of cocoa, beans and cashews and 35,000 public transportation vehicles.
Furthermore, to support the modernisation of agriculture, a key pillar of the Ivorian economy, MNOs and agribusinesses are also partnering to offer farmers mobile-based financial products, as well as lands and crops information, weather forecast updates and a broad set of applications to improve efficiency and productivity. An example of this is the partnership in 2017 between MTN and micro-finance institution Advans CI, a subsidiary of the global firm Advans Group that is worth €609m, to extend saving products to farmers. In November 2018 the local branch of the firm was awarded the European Microfinance Award for 2018, for creating digital savings and payment solutions that allowed farmers to securely transfer funds, manage savings over harvest schedules and pay for education. As of August 2018, four years after its launch, the programme had reached out to 13,500 farmers through 100 cooperatives.
“Côte d’Ivoire is at the forefront of digitalisation initiatives in the sub-region,” Nongolougo Soro, director-general of SNDI, an Abidjan-based IT services firm operating in West Africa, told OBG. “E-government and technical training in the public sector are gradually being implemented. Furthermore, the ICT private sector is collaborating with universities to ensure that skills taught in school match the economy’s needs.”
As mobile phones and the adoption of their related products take hold, financial institutions also may see opportunities develop as digital comfort grows. In March 2018, for instance, Standard Chartered Bank opened the country’s first digital bank, enabling customers to open an account within 15 minutes from their smartphone by uploading all necessary documents directly to the app, granting them access to some 70 banking services.
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