Fewer than a quarter of Africans have a bank account, the World Bank says, but 40% have a mobile phone. That has made the continent particularly fertile ground for mobile-payments businesses.
Equity Bank, Kenya's largest in terms of customers, wants a piece of Safaricom's brisk trade in charging mobile customers for financial transactions. It also aims to draw users into traditional banking products such as loans and savings accounts. Earlier this year, Equity acquired a telecom license and made plans to distribute to its customers SIM cards that would enable them to access all their accounts without visiting a branch. The ultrathin cards are designed to be placed on top of any SIM card already in a user's phone, effectively giving people one phone line linked to Equity's bank service and another for Safaricom's voice and M-Pesa services. The bank has given the cards to its employees and hopes to distribute a million to current customers within a year.