I was privileged to be speaking at a Mobile Payments conference last week – particularly privileged as it was in Miami, which was a good thirty degrees (F) warmer than home. The speaker before my panel was Marcelo Scaglia, from Banamex in Mexico City, who made one of the most sensible points I have heard recently in the mobile money space.
I’m paraphrasing here, but he observed that we often think there are two kinds of people in the world - “the banked” and “the unbanked” – and that many feel that a long term goal of mobile payments schemes is to take the latter and turn them into the former. Actually, he says, it might be more useful to think of an area between the banked and the unbanked. In this space, consumers may use a range of financial services from banks or from others without necessarily having the kind of permanent and pervasive relationship that we usually associate with the “banked” condition.
There may be an evolutionary path from sending small remittances via mobile payments to having checking, savings, overdraft protection, a home equity line of credit, and an unending string of annoying ads for college loans and retirement planning services. This path may exist, but it is not likely to be heavily traveled.
More common, I think, would be a path where the previously un-banked in developing countries avail themselves of funds storage in the mobile payments system, perhaps get and pay off occasional micro-loans, receive payment electronically, and get some basic financial education, all without necessarily having what we in the industrialized middle class think of as “my bank.”
And it’s probably because I watch too much television, but does anyone else out there hear the phrase “unbanked” and think of “undead”? No? OK, sorry I mentioned it.