Virus is hastening mobile-banking pioneer’s race to replace cash

JOHANNESBURG – Africa’s burgeoning mobile-banking industry has gained fresh momentum with governments boosting payments through phones, a measure aimed at curbing the coronavirus by reducing the physical exchange of cash.
Kenya is ramping up its use of technology platforms offered by Vodafone Group Plc’s M-Pesa, Airtel Kenya Ltd. and Telkom Kenya Ltd. since the pandemic to disburse aid directly to businesses and individuals using mobile money rather than through banks or food parcels. Ghana on Wednesday also started pumping stimulus to at least 100,000 micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises using mobile money.
Pioneered by Vodafone’s Nairobi-based Safaricom Plc in 2007, mobile money has become an indispensable part of how Africa’s 1.2 billion people pay for goods and services, buy funeral cover or borrow money, without a smartphone. Now, the need from governments to find a quick and safe way of sending funds during the pandemic is underscoring the service’s increasingly systemic role.