[McKinsey Q] Financial services for the unbanked are among the most promising opportunities for mobile-telecom operators hoping to counter slowing subscription growth with auxiliary offerings, such as banking, health care, and education services. In emerging markets, formal banking reaches about 37 percent of the population, compared with a 50 percent penetration rate for mobile phones. For every 10,000 people, these countries have one bank branch and one ATM—but 5,100 mobile phones.
A new focus on bringing financial services to the unbanked—those without easy access to traditional banking channels—represents a strategic shift for mobile operators. The very small deposits and loans held by poorer customers make them unprofitable for banks that use traditional delivery models. But mobile devices reduce the cost to serve customers by 50 to 70 percent, making it possible to offer financial services to a vast population once considered unprofitable.
The commercial potential for mobile operators could be significant. Our estimates reflect research, on 147 countries, that we conducted with the trade group GSM Association (GSMA). They show that about one billion people in emerging markets have a mobile phone but no access to banking services; by 2012 this population will reach 1.7 billion. Today, only about 45 million people without traditional bank accounts use mobile money, but we expect that this number could rise to 360 million by 2012 if mobile operators were to achieve the adoption rates of some early movers. By that year, the opportunity could generate $5 billion annually in direct revenue, primarily from fees for financial services such as transactions and cash out, and an additional $3 billion annually in indirect revenue, including reduced churn and higher average revenues per user for traditional voice and short message service (SMS).
Capturing the promise of mobile banking in emerging markets