The power of the mobile phone has been praised as the 7th Mass Media enabling users to do just about anything from the palm of their hands. It can patrol the internet, store mp3s or Mp4s, aid in communication across the board including free instant messaging on Apps like Mxit or BlackBerry Messenger.
The ball has not stopped rolling, with users additionally being able to engage in mobile banking where they can access existing bank accounts to preform numerous banking transactions through sms’s, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) or Internet browsers. M-Commerce therefore provides a widely available electronic network for an easy payment mechanism.
This is considered revolutionary as mobile banking is moving forward towards the new market segment of the “unbanked”. The “unbanked” are those without formal bank accounts without debit or credit cards.
Rather “virtual” bank accounts or e-wallets are accessible to enable users to send or receive money, pay their bills and buy or sell goods or services they come across.
The idea of the “unbanked” stretches to accounts from outside economic circles that rely on cash for payment of all their economic expenses. Those that dwell in these outside economic circles are deemed “invisible” to the formal economy as banks are not made use of as monetary holders. This segment is where mobile banking is praised for potentially catching the unofficial cash flow to government creating a platform for marco-economic benefits.
Theory versus South African Trends
The benefits of M-Commerce is convenience and the fast paced expanding technological sphere especially when focussing on mobile banking.
However, according to research studies this has not been accessed by all South Africans.
The Mobility 2011 research project conducted by World Wide Worx and sponsored byFirst National Bank suggests that Blackberry and other smartphones are rising in popularity amongst users interviewed.
However, the majority of these cases circulate in the urban sector of South Africa. According to the research project statistics the majority of people who currently own a smart phone equipped with M-Commerce functions don’t utilise these applications.
The statistics reveal that people who do make use these functions are normally full-time employed, well-educated urban citizens.
This raises the question of M-Commerce being aimed at well educated, full time working urban individuals whilst excluding users who can’t financially afford smartphones with such features.
The Nielsen Syndicated Study backed by Mobile Insights also suggests that out of a sample of 2000 participants in their survey, 60% of mobile subscribers are aware of internet banking, with the other 40% being completely unaware of this. Within the 60% of aware subscribers only 21% actually make use of the mobile banking feature.
While banks like FNB have launched a local version of MPesa that has been a roaring success in East Africa and also parts of Asia, local adoption has been slow. Banks may need to do more to improve the e-literacy of their potential clients to ensure that the ‘long tail’ of the great unbanked are able to participate in the digital economy