[Dave Birch] OK, so that’s one of the more unusual testaments to the continuing success of the M-PESA scheme. You can see it in context in an article about some ethnographic research around M-PESA. Im afraid I can’t resist an extended quote…

It is early morning in Bukura, a small village in Western Kenya. The shop-keeper and his wife are preparing to open their small store, which sells household commodities such as flour and cooking oil. They also offer M-PESA services. There is already a queue outside. A group of about twenty villagers are crowding the entrance. “It is always like this,” the shop-keeper complains while pointing to the crowd. “Since we have become M-PESA agents we have no time to rest. This thing has even over-run our other business”. He then holds up a packet of sugar. “We have not sold any sugar in months. They only want M-PESA”.

[From Why has M-PESA become so popular in Kenya?]

This is only one of many, many similar stories that keep cropping up.

…the majority of customers in both the urban and rural areas assert that they prefer M-PESA over other money transfer services. This means that M-PESA must be offering them some kind of substantial benefit. In Bukura, this benefit comes in the form of savings on transport. Customers do not need to travel into Kakamega, the nearest town, to access the service. One elderly farmer commented that “I can just walk from my shamba (farm) and get money. I don’t have to spend and go into town. If the agent does not have cash today, then I will come back tomorrow. It is cheaper to wait”.

[From Why has M-PESA become so popular in Kenya?]

It just goes to show what can happen when the right digital money implementation comes along at the right time: real transformation.

I happened to read the Jim Rosenberg post containing these quotes while I was still thinking about an article I’d seen earlier, an article about the British government’s push for “free” ATMs in poor areas. I was trying to understand what this statement by John McFall, an M.P., means:

A number of the new cash machines have proven so popular that they now no longer require funding from the scheme

[From Finextra: UK government talks up free cash machine initiative]

If they are popular, that means that lots of money is being withdrawn, which in turn means lots of armoured trucks and guards and things. Who is paying for all of this if the customers aren’t and the “scheme” isn’t? I’m genuinely curious and look forward to someone e-mailing me with the obvious answer that I’ve overlooked in my tired and distracted state. Going by the figures they were trumpeting, each “free” ATM serves a couple of thousand customers: Surely it would be cheaper to bring M-PESA to the UK. I will ask about the UK franchise next time I’m over in Newbury…

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. It just goes to show what can happen when the right digital money implementation comes along at the right time: real transformation.

  2. Dave,
    Thanks for the great post – “We have not sold sugar in months” is exactly the type of quote that i needed to be able to make this point to others.
    I think the issue with ATMs is that the money volumes have to be there to make it worthwhile paying for all the security vans/guards etc. If the ATM only dispensed $10 a day it would be unserviceable whereas if a cash generating business knew it could get rid of $100,000 a day it would be very attractive to serve it.
    I might be wrong but an old friend of mine worked for the firm that recycled all Marks&Spencer cash through Royal Bank of Scotland cashpoints. M&S had some real issues (not least of all the quantities of fake notes – as they had a very British policy of not checking to spare potential embarrassment to customers!) and costs due to the amount of cash they were banking (worsened by the decision to not accept credit cards) so the cashpoint route was a financially incentivised method of not paying to bank the cash and alleviated RBS of the issues of having to pay to get the cash to fill their ATMS.
    Hope this helps – and i hope it doesn’t sound like i’m trying to say our cash based system is better than the mpesa one. It’s much worse!
    I think the mpesa UK plans are well developed too – back in Feb at Mobile World Congress i heard Safaricom CEO say they were opening a central London office as soon as the legalities were fixed.

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