More than half of the world's adults — 2.5 billion — are unbanked, according to research recently published by the World Bank Development Research Group. The American government, however, estimates that the U.S. is home to only 10 million of them, which means the vast majority of the unbanked live outside the country. And many of them reside in developing areas, such as India, where more than 40 percent of residents are unbanked, and Africa, where that number is at a staggering 80 percent.
Instead of trying to coax these populations into getting on board with mainstream banking, many companies are finding new ways to provide them with financial services, whether it's deploying kiosks to help the unbanked cash checks, pay bills and transfer money, or offering mobile banking services that allow consumers to transfer money via smartphones.
Take, for example, India-based Cms Info Systems, which has been providing the country with finanical kiosks for the past two decades. Business is still booming for the company that has projected a kiosk deployment growth rate of 10 percent between 2012 and 2013.
"A major factor in the continued growth of usage in India is due to the increasing market shift towards payment and cash-access of all types, the proliferation of locations, consumer reliance on the added functionality, speed and convenience of the banking kiosks, and the profitable strategic shift away from human-delivered service to 'self-serve,'" said J.B. Lalla, national sales manager for Cms.
Also, newer banking kiosks now provide multiple services — such as cash deposits, check deposits, money-transfer, statement printing, passbook printing and gift-card dispensing — which is driving increased usage.
Or take Europe-based Genkiosk, which has seen rapid growth of its bill-pay kiosks in the Middle East and in other regions with large migrant workforces, but isn't focusing only there. It's expanding its footprint to anywhere that the recession is driving customers to pay bills at the last minute, said James Oladujoye, CEO of GWD Media, the makers of Genkiosk.
"We first saw the boom in bill-payment kiosks in Dubai," he said. "Next, it was Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where there are also large populations of migrant workers and people without bank accounts or credit cards. If you could find a way not to make a journey, then line up just to pay cash to a teller, wouldn't you grasp it?"
Specifically, Genkiosk is penetrating new markets, including Indonesia and the Philippines, as its next geographical targets for bill-pay kiosks, but Oladujoye also noted how the global downturn has changed the financial sector in nearly every place in the world.
"Today, you can go anywhere — even a rich country like the U.S.A. — and you will find people who are having a very hard time. We are seeing users paying their electricity bills on kiosks with cash at the very last moment before they are cut off. This is happening everywhere, not just the countries we first prioritized. It is a sign of the times."
Developing economies like those in India and Africa are not only embracing financial kiosks, they are quickly embracing mobile banking, even more so than their North American counterparts. For example, India's My Mobile Payments Ltd., a mobile payment service provider, recently launched its Money-on-Mobile mobile wallet to the Indian consumer market.
The service, which is not tied to any mobile service provider or bank, allows mobile phone subscribers to pay for a wide range of goods and services by mobile phone.
Consumers can load their MOM m-wallets with cash at one of 82,000 retail touch points (expected to be 2 million by year's end) and use it to pay for electricity, gas and mobile bills and top-ups, as well as airline, bus and movie tickets.
MOM launched for the B2B market in India in 2010, and is now providing the semi-closed m-wallet for the consumer market. The service has 500,000 subscribers and does a business volume of INR 20 million ($358,422) daily.
"In a country like India where mobile phones are more widespread than the financial systems, mobile payment is the next big alternative payment method," said Shashank Joshi, managing director of Money-on-Mobile. "MOM does all paperless transactions and it is in line with RBI's vision of making 70 percent of the financial transactions paperless by end of 2012. MOM is committed to ensuring consumers the ability to make safe, convenient and flexible payments."
Paddy Micro Investments last month launched its newest platform to deliver financial services to Africa's unbanked people. Specifically, the company's "Pesa Pata " kiosks give low-income Kenyans access to quick loans, according to this story.
At the kiosk, the customer obtains a Pesa Pata scratch card valued between $3 and $59, and each card has a unique number that is loaded onto the customer's mobile phone. The amount is then credited to the customer's Safaricom M-Pesa mobile money account.
"We realized that there are times when people need instant cash, and going to a bank or micro-finance institution for a loan is not an option," Joyce Wangui, a director at Paddy Micro Investments. "Other people who work in the informal sector at most times cannot even qualify for bank loans."
The loans, which have a 5 or 10 percent interest rate, allows the kiosk owner to profit, but the model is dependent on the level of trust between traders and their customers.
Thousands of kiosk and shop owners countrywide have signed up as Pesa Pata agents, including Felistas Wanja, who runs a shop along Jogoo Road in Nairobi.
"Last week one of my loyal customers had a sick child and she needed money urgently," she said in the story. "I gave her two $59 Pesa Pata cards. When she paid back I made profit of $5 on each card. In the past people would take sugar on credit, now I give them the card, they buy goods in cash, and at the end of the month I will make a profit when they repay the loan.
Orange is yet another company targeting not only Africa, but also the Middle East.
It recently announced that more than 4 million customers are now using its Orange Money, which provides the unbanked with access to basic financial services through their mobile devices. Customers can transfer funds, set up a savings account and make payments using the services.
The services are available to consumers in 10 countries, including Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger and Senegal. The company plans to be in all 22 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where it provides wireless services.
"Orange Money plays an important role in driving growth in our activities in emerging markets, allowing us to contribute to the economic and social development of these countries, while improving our customers' loyalty," said Marc Rennard, Orange's executive director for EMEA operations, in the announcement.
The company's growth, said Rennard, indicates a strong consumer appetite for a simple and practical mobile payment service where people have limited access to bank accounts but are widely equipped with mobile phones.
For more stories like this, visit the Mobile Banking research center.