Bloomberg Businessweek contributor Charles Graeber spent 10 days in Kenya with only one requirement: to not use his wallet — and to pay for everything by phone.
“I’ve never gone to Africa and I’ve never paid for anything with my phone,” he said. So, intrigued by Kenya’s M-pesa system (“M” stands for mobile and “pesa” means payment in Swahili). The system allows users to transfer money from phone-to-phone through text messages. Once Graeber landed in Kenya, it took him fifteen minutes to get set up with a phone, SIM card and become a client of the country’s largest mobile provider, Safaricom.
Charles was able to use his phone to pay for his taxi, book his hotel and even haggle down meat prices from the local market. This use of payment has become widely popular since its launch in 2007.
“Something like 93 percent of Kenyans with mobile phones have this… The truth is it’s an alternative to banking… it is quickly becoming people’s bank accounts. In fact, some people will keep their money on a SIM card, and then take that SIM card out and keep it in a cookie jar, sort of as a virtual savings account.”
While the majority of Kenyans are using this method of payment, the U.S. has yet to adopt a system like this. It’s a shame, at least for Charles, who says he’s already missing it.
“You walk out the door only needing your phone… and your wallet is one less thing to forget.”