Kenya Pioneers New Way to Transfer Money
Kenya Pioneers New Way to Transfer Money
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Mobile banking has already taken off in Southern and Eastern Africa. Sierra Leone is now one of the few West African countries with a service providing mobile phone transactions.

Across West Africa, the yellow and black signs of the money transfer company Western Union are ubiquitous. Up until now, this was the easiest way to send money for those without a bank account.

Now Sierra Leoneans have the chance to send money using just their mobile phone. With the mobile transfer service, Splash Mobile Money, there is no need for a bank account and registration is free.

Ben Farren is Director of Splash Mobile Money Limited. He explains how the system works.

"Splash is a way of storing and sending money on your mobile phone," Farren said. "We sell mobile money or Splash Cash which you can buy and credit to your phone number. You can then send that Splash Cash to other people using simple instructions which you send to Splash via text message. The recipient can turn the Splash Cash they receive back into cash through a network of agents that we are creating."

Currently recipients can cash in at one of 30 Splash agents in the country. Most agents are centered in the capital, Freetown. But Splash also reaches the major regional towns of Bo and Makeni, with plans to expand to more remote areas in the coming months.

The cost of transferring money by phone depends on the amount being transferred. You can move as little as $1.50 for 16 cents or up to $300 for about $4.

Splash Mobile Money works in partnership with the Sierra Leonean bank Guaranty Trust Bank and the mobile phone networks, Africell and Zain.

After a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002, Sierra Leone's traditional communications infrastructure has suffered from neglect. But the mobile phone sector is growing fast, with five networks operating now and three more expected to launch soon.  

According to the World Bank, only about 9 percent of the adult population in Sierra Leone has a bank account. There are between 1.5 and 2 million mobile phone users in the country.

Farren says mobile cash could revolutionize the way money is used in Sierra Leone,  removing barriers for people who cannot access bank accounts because of distance or cost.

"At a basic level it is difficult and expensive to send money today," Farren said. "And we make it cheap, easy, fast and safe for the first time."

In a country where, on average, people live on about two dollars a day and road  infrastructure is poor, the opportunity to transfer small amounts of money cheaply and quickly by phone could have a significant impact on people's lives.

After only three weeks, 1,000 people have already signed up for Splash mobile money and according to Farrel the numbers are growing rapidly.