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Visa Navigate

December 2020


6 - 7 Minutes

Mobile money – how the pandemic is accelerating change

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in all walks of life, and this has been very apparent in payments and commerce, with a clear global shift away from cash transactions to digital payments.

According to Otto Williams, Vice President, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Fintech and Ventures, CEMEA, Visa, “Mobile money applications, which allow people to manage their finances through a smartphone are not new in CEMEA and have been growing in popularity for the past few years.” Even before the pandemic struck, the GSMA estimated there were half a billion mobile money accounts in Africa alone1. But the ability to safely pay a seller, receive funds from a family member quickly and securely, or even apply for a loan without travelling to a bank branch has become even more attractive, and indeed important, in the COVID-19 era.

“Change has been accelerated, mobile money offers are now being developed faster and more fully than ever before in CEMEA and at the heart of the trend sits the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs),” says Williams.

MNOs taking centre stage

While bank-based and fintech mobile money apps have come to markets across the region, Matthew Cruickshank, Sub Saharan Africa Lead, Strategic Partnerships, Fintechs and Ventures at Visa explains, “In many territories, it is MNOs that are leading the pack. They are already at the vanguard of digital payments, and have the benefit of a strong connection to a highly-engaged customer base.”

The ability for MNOs to reach and support millions of people who are otherwise excluded from the financial system, is a major societal benefit that drives the growth in mobile money.

“This customer base of MNOs in the region typically includes a large proportion of the unbanked and underbanked. When the pandemic took hold, MNOs found themselves in a unique position to capture this opportunity quickly and support citizens; mainly due to existing distribution networks and service touchpoints,” Cruickshank explains.

New offers developed swiftly

The pace at which new mobile money applications are being developed by MNOs has accelerated notably during the pandemic according to Alex McCrea, Middle East and North Africa Lead, Strategic Partnerships, Fintechs and Ventures, Visa.

“We used to see MNOs go through multiple phases of development with their mobile money propositions, but today they are bypassing some of those and launching more sophisticated proposals from day one.”

Alex explains that previously, mobile networks would typically launch with a core mobile wallet enabling closed loop payments (payments within the mobile network locations and affiliated merchants as well as p2p transfers amongst users). It was only during a later phase that open loop payments (payments at all merchants and all channels domestically and internationally) were introduced usually by way of a Visa virtual or physical card. Finally we would see the addition of financial services including loans or money management services, loyalty programmes and lifestyle services like food delivery or taxi bookings.

“Since the onset of the pandemic we are seeing MNOs launch propositions and offers that totally skip the initial phases. They want to give customers the ability to pay wherever they shop whether that is online or in person from day one. The inclusion of a range of flexible financial services is also notable. MNOs are trying to meet customer demand by offering the ability to pay in instalments or apply for microfinance.”

Partnering for success

“Payment partnerships facilitate the rapid acceleration of more sophisticated mobile money offers by MNOs. The combination not only gives consumers the ability to spend money where and when they want, but it also allows access to a range of payment services,” says Yevgen Lisnyak, CIS/SEE Lead, Strategic Partnerships, Fintechs and Ventures, Visa.

Lisnyak explains: “The idea that closed loop payments are sufficient on a mobile money app has been dispelled by the pandemic. It is just too costly, too time consuming and too restrictive to acquire your own merchants. A partnership with the right payment provider solves that problem instantly.”

By partnering with open loop payment networks, MNOs can also access credentials to issue funds, to send remittances and conduct person-to-person and person-to-merchant payments. In today’s world these capabilities are not just key to winning over customers, they can help support communities and societies by ensuring the flow of funds to people and businesses.

“Economies around the world are in a state of flux, with the impact being felt across all segments of society – and it’s clear that many of these effects will last for years. MNOs need to come together with global payments leaders to extend digital payments to those people that need them most,” Williams concludes.


Examples of Visa’s strategic mobile money partnerships with MNOs across CEMEA include:

  • Saudi Arabia (stc pay) - In Riyadh, Visa entered a strategic partnership with stc pay, the digital wallet and subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s largest telecom company stc. The partnership is expected to involve the launch of digital payment solutions and issue Visa payment credentials to millions of stc pay customers: enabling them to use their digital wallet and Visa credential safely for cashless payments across the world.
  • Belarus (A1) - Visa has signed a strategic partnership agreement with A1, one of the biggest telecom operators in the market to support A1’s banking applications launched by the MNO. The application provides A1 customers with financial services and Visa’s virtual card is the core of the product.


All brand names, logos and/or trademarks are the property of their respective owners, are used for identification purposes only, and do not necessarily imply product endorsement or affiliation with Visa.

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