Mobile money

11-11-2011

On Monday we paid a visit to the local bank to make arrangements for the funding of our four widows' income generation projects. This is the Kiwangala Micro-finance Cooperative and is the closest thing to a bank for twenty miles.

The cooperative isn't large. One small room is used as a back office and the customers wait in another that could be a railway ticket office from Beeching's time. It even has a large railway clock on the wall. Behind a thin grille the cashier dispenses loans and takes deposits. There are no computers and everything is recorded by hand. Each customer's transactions are written faithfully onto a green ledger card and requests for withdrawals go on a pink slip. This is what the TSB must have been like forty years ago. In the back office, a large sheet of flip-chart paper is stuck to the wall proudly showing the growth in members, loans and deposits for several years back. Each year has been added with a different marker pen.

But behind this lack of sophistication the Ugandans are making the best of what they have with imaginative innovation. In the room beside the cashier a girl sits at a long table handing out mobile money. The customers sit opposite her on a padded bench that might have come from the same ticket office as the cashier's room. They fill in their pink slips with their mobile number and the girl, using another mobile, sends the money to their phone with a business-like efficiency. MTN, one of the telecomms providers has shops where people can take their phone and draw cash.

Allegedly, mobile money can be sent to Granny out in the sticks (which is most places in Uganda) and if the posters in Kampala are to be believed, she jumps for joy, waiving her phone in one hand and a bunch of crisp fivers in the other while the goat looks on happy knowing that it is something else's turn to be eaten tonight. It gives a whole new meaning to telephone banking.