Michael Liberty

What Jamaica’s Mobile Wallet Will Mean for the Unbanked: Financial inclusion community takes note of new national mobile finance product

This summer, the Bank of Jamaica approved the Jamaican Co-operative Credit Union League (JCCUL) to extend the use of its mobile wallet, the CONEC Mobile Wallet, to all citizens of Jamaica, regardless of whether they are bank or credit union customers.

This was an incredibly significant development in this Caribbean nation, and all citizens stand to gain access to many of the same basic financial capabilities that were previously unavailable to a majority of the population. As the founder of a mobile financial services company striving to provide financial inclusion to the world’s under-banked, this was a huge milestone. Here’s a look at the state of Jamaica’s mobile wallet now, and how it could shape up to be a disruptive force of financial inclusion for the country.

The state of Jamaica’s unbanked

According to an article from the Jamaica Gleaner, an estimated 70 percent of Jamaicans are under- or unbanked, meaning they have little to no access to traditional financial services and accounts. Many of them express the view that banking “is for big people.” Under-banked individuals typically are paying exorbitant fees to carry out transactions that people with traditional bank accounts take for granted every single day.

Those with bank accounts might find it difficult to understand how many hurdles and fees one has to overcome to make simple transactions such as cashing a paycheck, paying rent, or transferring money to relatives in other cities. Some check cashing companies can charge up to 3 percent to cash checks. For those living in a cash-only environment, safety and security are top-of-mind issues that often inhibit new business development and a more stable economy. There’s is a fundamental social injustice in having no access to traditional financial services, but many Jamaicans now hold the solution in the palm of their hands.

Mobile technology makes financial inclusion possible

More than 95 percent of Jamaicans are data-enabled mobile phone subscribers, many of them without banks. They’re not alone—according to the World Bank, there are over 2.5 billion unbanked people who are mobile phone subscribers. With mobile technology’s ability to instantly connect people, manage and store data, and eliminate the need to be physically present to exchange money, the solution to financial exclusion is already here. Jamaica is a perfect example of a promising, early-stage national mobile wallet.

My company, Mozido, worked with the JCCUL to develop a branded product, the CONEC Mobile Wallet, for all credit union customers to access the same services on their phones that they get at the branch location. This summer, we introduced CONEC Mobile Wallet, offering financial services to the more than 2 million under-banked Jamaicans, many of whom gained access to basic financial services for the first time ever.

Launched just a couple of months ago, there are nearly 3,000 users who frequently complete transactions using the CONEC Mobile Wallet, and the JCCUL expects to increase daily users to 50,000 by the end of this year.

Mozido has financially inclusive mobile wallet projects working in multiple geographies, including India, the Middle East, Latin America and the United States. Mozido is driven by our vision that mobile technology can fundamentally change the financial lives of individuals around the world who do not have access to bank accounts. In geographies where there are high rates of under-banked individuals, our approach is to work with governments, merchants and financial institutions to enable seamless mobile transactions between the unbanked and their environments in the most intuitive way possible.

What financial inclusion through mobile wallet will mean for Jamaicans

In just a few years, Jamaica’s national mobile wallet initiative will bring new levels of financial power to its citizens. Much like Kenya’s M-PESA system, Jamaicans, regardless of job status or income, will routinely use the mobile wallet to see balances, pay for goods and services, and complete bill and loan payments, remittances, deposits and withdrawals — all from the safety and convenience of their mobile phones.

Additionally, the mobile wallet will level the playing field for merchants. The mobile wallet has an interface for business owners to accept payments and create marketing programs. Anyone, from the corner produce cart owner to the largest grocery chain, can market their services and exchange money in a safe, secure digital environment. Mobile wallet technology eliminates the need for family-owned businesses to have to spend valuable time and resources travelling between rural and urban areas to collect payments.

This is a new era for the Caribbean nation—the progress that mobile wallet adoption has already begun is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. Other nations are taking notice, too. Unlike Kenya, Jamaica had an existing mobile infrastructure with a regulating force for the financial industry (the Bank of Jamaica). Jamaica, like other countries that are further along in development and infrastructure, has been watching mobile wallet technology play out in areas like Kenya to analyze what would work and what wouldn’t in its own country. The CONEC Mobile Wallet’s regulatory approval makes this unlike any other in the world. As a result, several countries across the Caribbean, South and Central Americas are watching closely to see if a similar approach would work in these developing regions.

Michael Liberty is the founder and chairman of Global Strategic Initiatives at Mozido.

digital payments, financial inclusion, mobile finance