Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mobile Money Adoption in Ghana: Why So Long?

IMTFI fellows Cliff Mensah and Richard Zhixin Kang report from Accra, Ghana on the conference "Reaching the Unreached: Mobile Money Uptake in Ghana." See the program here.

Are Ghanaians tired of change or reluctant to change? Or they simply do not know about “it?”

What is IT? she asked.  
Mobile money, we answered.  
Is IT here ... in Ghana? How does IT work?  

This is an excerpt from a dialogue we had with a respondent while collecting data in the streets of Accra, the capital of Ghana; unfortunately, it reflects the views of many Ghanaians who could benefit from the use of mobile money (MM). Without apportioning blame, we ask: How can “IT” be used, if “IT” is not known?

In light of Ghana’s longue duree of monetary instability and financial transformations, it would be safe to say that, for Ghanaians, the past has been a fog of monetary transitions. From the use of cowrie shells to barter, fiat money, colonial currencies used alongside local currencies, and other currency modification exercises, Ghanaians’ (as well as much of West Africans’) experience with multiple and changing currency regimes is well entranched in people’s daily lives (see, for instance, Jane Guyer’s introduction to Money Matters (1994). Given this historical penchant for adaptability, the reticence to the adoption of newly introduced financial instruments—such as mobile money services—is surprising.  Further, given the successes of other MM services in comparable African countries (such as the success of MPESA in Kenya), new MM initiatives in Ghana were seen as having the potential to combat poverty in a country where the gap between the “Haves” and “Have not” is widening rapidly. Unfortunately, this is yet to be realized

The case of mobile money uptake in Ghana, thus far, has been anything but successful. One wonders whether this is due to the regulatory environment, the lack of trust in the service providers, a simple lack of knowledge, or the spate of fraudulent online activities plaguing the nation. To address the low uptake of mobile money, a diverse body of researchers, practitioners, retailers and consumers of telecommunication products is convening to discuss the issue at a 2-day conference on MM uptake titled, “Reaching the Unbanked,” and scheduled to take place at the Ghana Technology University at Tesano, Accra-Ghana on March 12th-13th. The conference is bringing together all the relevant stakeholders in the mobile money industry in Ghana to deliberate on the slow adoption of mobile money and strategies to improve its uptake.

Following a speech by Ghana’s current Minister of Communication Dr. Omane Boamah, Peter Zetterli of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) presented the keynote address. While addressing the conference theme in a keynote titled: "Mobile Money in Ghana—Why Has it Taken So Long and Where are We Headed?" Zetterli focused on “illustrating the critical importance of getting agent networks right and outlining the key areas involved in doing so.” Following the keynote address, conference participants have began to engage in panel sessions, research presentations and consumer-service provider interactions to foster a better understanding and awareness and uptake of mobile money.

Conference panels address the following themes: 
  • Mobile Money as a Payment Platform for Goods and Service
  • The Role of Regulators in the Mobile Money Industry
  • Market Potential for Mobile Money
  • Sociocultural Challenges in the Use of Mobile Money Services
  • Mobile Money Penetration among Urban Poor and Rural Communities in Ghana
  • Developing Strategic Partnerships in Providing e-Money Services
  • The Role of Rural Banks in Providing Mobile Money Services to Rural Poor Communities
  • Innovation in Electronic Financial Services
  • Mobile Money and Microfinance
  • The Role of Retailers in Enhancing Mobile Money Uptake
  • Barriers to Mobile Money Uptake

As a segue to a rigorous discussion on the issues underpinning the low adoption rates of MM in Ghana, researchers from Ghana Technology University will discuss the consumer perception of MM; they will contrast the views of the urban poor with that of their rural counterparts. The discussion will build upon preliminary findings from survey data collected in Accra, Ghana’s capital city and Swedru, the capital of the Agona West municipality of the Central Region (about 1 ½ hours’ drive from Accra). The municipal district shares common borders with AkimAkroso of West Akim to the northeast and Winneba of the Effutu municipality to the northwest. The Agona West Municipality covers an area of 667 square kilometers and a population size of 160,000. Trading and farming are the two primary sources of livelihood. Data from Swedru was collected from 100 retailers and 300 consumers as opposed to the 250 retailers and 500 consumers interviewed in Accra.


While this data is by no means sufficient to make conclusive judgments about Ghanaians’ perception of mobile money, it is a first step towards providing a sense of the MM landscape in Ghana; further, it aims to provide different stakeholders, especially MM service providers, access to the thoughts, needs, and preferences of their clients.
The uniqueness of this conference compared to others cannot be overemphasized. The program is carefully designed to foster communication between service providers, transactional agents, regulators and consumers. Currently, about 144 participants from all walks of life are attending the conference. This includes MM service providers, financial inclusion experts, development agency representatives as well as local market women entrepreneurs, financial operators in the informal sector and other community leaders as well. As we speak, MM scholars are meeting practitioners to increase the awareness of mobile money, enhance consumer knowledge, and improve its usage in Ghana. This conference will be one of a kind!

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