Kenyan M-pesa system launches in Romania

The M-Pesa mobile money transfer system, which allows clients to send cash with their telephones and has transformed how business is done in east Africa, is now expanding into Romania.

The move represents a reversal of usual trends, whereby new technology spreads from Europe to Africa.

M-Pesa, which means “mobile money” in east Africa’s Swahili language, was introduced in Kenya in 2007 by Safaricom, the country’s largest mobile telecommunications company, in partnership with British giant Vodafone.

Since then the service has grown exponentially, with about $40 billion (30 billion euros) flowing through the service in Kenya alone.

Commenting on the recent move, Claire Alexandre, who leads M-Pesa’s Commercial and Strategy team within the Vodafone group, commented:

“We chose Romania because there was, and there is still, a large part of the population which doesn’t have a bank account. Only about 50 percent of the population of Romania has a bank account. And the other half is mostly still using cash.”

Michael Joseph, who heads Vodafone’s Mobile Money business, added:

“From east Africa to eastern Europe, that’s quite phenomenal when you think about it. I think that this is something the rest of the world can look at, to say that there are ideas that can emanate out of the developing world, and take it to the developed world.”

So far, Vodafone hasn’t announced any plans to expand elsewhere in Europe. Experts suggest it might be eyeing other markets, though, in eastern and central Europe. Whether M-Pesa will thrive there, as in Africa, remains to be seen.

Along with ordinary people, the humanitarian community also is adopting M-Pesa technology as a handy way to offer cash assistance to needy communities, including refugees and those hit by disasters. There’s one constant in all these scenarios. Alexandre said markets seem to like the brand name. So wherever it next travels, M-Pesa will keep its moniker and its Swahili roots.

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