April 18, 2014

Shots over the bow -- Haiti joins with USA to open up payments for the people

The separation of payments from banks is accelerating. News from Haiti:

The past year in Haiti has been marked by the slow pace of the earthquake recovery. But the poorest nation in the hemisphere is moving quickly on something else - setting up "mobile money" networks to allow cell phones to serve as debit cards.

The systems have the potential to allow Haitians to receive remittances from abroad, send cash to relatives across town or across the country, buy groceries and even pay for a bus ride all with a few taps of their cell phones.

Using phones to handle money payments is something we know works. It works so well that some 35% of the economy in Kenya moves this way (I forget the numbers). It works so well Kenya doesn't care about the banks freezing up the economy any more because they have an alternate system, they have resiliance in payments. It works so well that everyone can do mPesa, even the unbanked, which is most of them, bank accounts costing the same in Kenya as the west.

It works so well that mPesa has been the biggest driver to new bank accounts...

Yet mPesa hasn't been followed around the world. The reason is pretty simple -- regulatory interference. Central banks, I'm looking at you. In Kenya, the mission of "financial inclusion" won the day; in other countries around the world, central banks worked against wealth for the poorest by denying them payments on the mobile.

Is it that drastic? Yes. Were the central banks well-minded? Sure, they thought they were doing the right thing, but they were wrong. Mobile money equals wealth for the poor and there is no way around that fact. Stopping mobile money means taking money from the poor, in the big picture. Everything else is noise.

So when the poorest of the poor -- the Haitian earthquake victims were left in the mud, there were no banks left to serve them (sell them?) and the only way to get value out there turned out to be using the mobile phone.

That included, giving the users free mobile phones.

Can you see an important value point here? The value to society of getting mobile money to the poor is in excess of the price of the mobile phone.

Well, this only happens in poor countries, right? Wrong again. The financial costs that are placed on the poor of every country by the decisions of the central banks are common across all countries. Now comes Walmart, for that very express same reason:

In a move that threatens to upend another piece of the financial services industry, Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, announced on Thursday that it would allow customers to make store-to-store money transfers within the United States at cut-rate fees.

This latest offer, aimed largely at lower-income shoppers who often rely on places like check-cashing stores for simple transactions, represents another effort by the giant retailer to carve out a space in territory that once belonged exclusively to traditional banks.
Lower-income consumers have been a core demographic for Walmart, but in recent quarters those shoppers have turned increasingly to dollar stores.
More than 29 percent of households in the United States did not have a savings account in 2011, and about 10 percent of households did not have a checking account, according to a study sponsored by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. And while alternative financial products give consumers access to services they might otherwise be denied, people who are shut out of the traditional banking system sometimes find themselves paying high fees for transactions as basic as cashing a check.

See the common thread with Bitcoin? Message to central banks: shut the people out, and they will eventually respond. The tide is now turning, and banks and central banks no longer have the credibility they once had to stomp on the poor. The question for the future is, which central banks will break ranks first, and align themselves with their countries and their peoples?

Posted by iang at April 18, 2014 06:07 AM | TrackBack
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