M-Pesa pioneer Michael Joseph joins MFS Africa to expand mobile money

12 April 2017 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Mobile money pioneer Michael Joseph has joined the board of a pan-African financial technology company to help further its ambition to offer cross-border money transfer services across the continent.

MFS Africa already provides a hub between 50 providers of mobile money schemes in 30 countries, with a potential market of 120 million people.

Now, as a non-executive director of the company, Joseph will help steer MFS Africa towards a target market of 400 million users across Africa, to allow them to move money, mainly in small amounts, to friends and relatives on other countries.

“You could get each operator to make a deal with each other,” he told Capacity in an interview, “but that would present significant challenges.”

Main challenges are not only technical, but “someone has to decide the conversion rate” when money is moved across borders, and there are regulatory requirements.

“The operators are also competitors, so it makes sense to give this task to a mobile hub,” he said.

Current cross-border money transfer services charge commissions in the range of 20% in Africa – well above the global average of 7% and hugely more than the domestic rate of around 1%, founder and CEO Dare Okoudjou told Capacity. “I want to connect platforms so that people can send money seamlessly, and bring down those prices.”

MFS Africa is a relatively small operation, with offices in Johannesburg, Accra and – because it is an important foreign exchange and regulatory centre – London.

The company is aiming for 400 million users across Africa by 2020, said Okoudjou, mostly customers of mobile networks but also of mobile financial services provided by banks. MFS Africa aims to increase its range of services from straightforward money transfer to include savings and insurance, he said.

Joseph was the pioneer of Kenyan operator Safaricom’s m-Pesa mobile money service when he was CEO of the company for 11 years until 2011, and he is still a mobile money adviser to the Vodafone group, which is a Safaricom shareholder.

“I’m very passionate about financial inclusion in Africa,” said Joseph. There are lots of people in different countries who want to send money in small amounts.”