Mobile money accounts have overtaken traditional bank accounts in Zambia, an indication that mobile banking is taking rooting in the region.
Zambia's Central Bank, which reported the statistics about mobile money accounts, also said that the number of users of mobile money services is expected to increase significantly over the next three years.
Mobile operators and banks in the region are competing aggressively on the provision of mobile money services, as many Africans cannot afford a bank account, coupled with the cost of traveling long distances to banks from rural areas.
Revenue from mobile voice services in most African countries including Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe is declining as a result of stiff competition. This has forced mobile phone operators to offer mobile money services in order to cushion the impact of the declining voice revenue. In an effort to avoid becoming irrelevant in the long run, banks have also begun providing mobile money services to customers.
The Zambian Central Bank statistics show that the country's mobile money accounts have reached 3.4 million compared to 2 million bank accounts.
"This development has presented an opportunity for more and more unbanked communities, particularly rural communities to access financial services," said Lazarous Kamanga, Central Bank assistant director for payment systems.
South Africa's MTN, India's Airtel and Zanaco Bank are among the institutions currently providing mobile money services in Zambia.
Kamanga said the Central Bank is currently considering an application by Zamtel, a state-owned operator, to start providing money services in the country.
As in many countries in Africa, Zambia has had problems of overcoming the longstanding challenge of reaching out to the unbanked population of the country. But now the Central Bank believes the country is managing to overcome the challenge as banks and mobile phones service providers are actively participating in the provision of financial services to communities that previously had no access to financial services.
Zambians, like many Africans, are using mobile financial services to buy goods, pay utility bills, and send and receive money.
In Zimbabwe, Econnet Wireless, the country's largest telecom operator, said this week that revenue from its voice market has remained flat despite the surge in network user number. The company's CEO, Douglas Mboweni, said, "the company is making more revenue from the EcoCash mobile payment system, whose customer base has grown to over 3 million, than the voice market."
In Kenya alone, there are 25.1 million mobile financial services subscribers, according to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK), the country telecom sector regulator.
The rise in the use of mobile money in the region has further been fuelled by the increasing availability and use of mobile phones, both in rural and urban areas, as operators try to capture customers in rural areas to increase their customer base and improve on their balance sheet.