Now cell phones are serving as a bank in your pocket, providing virtual accounts for South Africans excluded from the financial mainstream by exorbitant charges and branch networks clustered in wealthy white suburbs.
“I used to keep my money in an envelope stuffed under my mattress,” said Mpanza, a community worker in the Johannesburg township of Soweto. “With most banks you need lots of papers, but with this one, all you need is a cell phone.”
Open to anyone with a phone, mobile banking has proved a hit with people such as Mpanza in South Africa’s townships and villages, and looks set to spread quickly across Africa.
Account holders use text messages, or SMS, to pay for goods, transfer money to friends and family and top up the credit on their pre-pay phones. Bosses can pay salaries direct into cellular accounts and customers can deposit cash at Post Offices and some bank branches.