What Is the Future of Mobile Money in Afghanistan?

Afghan barbershop

This past summer, Jan Chipchase, Frog Design's Executive Creative Director for Global Insights, ventured to Afghanistan to learn how the mobile money business is growing—and not growing—in the country. FastCompany.com had the chance to speak with Chipchase to learn more about the findings presented in his just-unveiled report, Mobile Money Afghanistan.

According to Chipchase, Afghanistan made sense as a destination to study mobile money, because local provider Roshan is rolling out a system that is very similar to the one successfully used in Kenya (M-PESA), where 14 million out of 80 million residents use their cell phones for banking.

"Here's something that works very well in one environment. Going into another environment with very low penetration, broadly speaking, I've seen the advantages that access to rudimentary banking services can have," Chipchase says.

Beyond the obvious advantages of being able to keep money tucked away safely in the cloud, mobile services in Afghanistan have hidden benefits, too. One of Chipchase's interviewees told him that mobile phones are the biggest enablers of love marriages, simply because they allow for undisturbed communication between two young people.

Mobile money, however, still has a ways to go before it penetrates all areas of Afghanistan society. And that penetration may take time. Chipchase speculates that one possible use will be bill payment. "It's uncontentious enough, a frequent activity that breaks down the financial literacy issue a little bit," he says.

But ultimately, it's too early to say what mobile money will look like in Afghanistan five years down the line. As history has proven, political situations can change for the worse instantaneously in the country. That affects any potential technological advances. But Chipchase is optimistic. "I would expect [mobile money] to grow. I think going back into Afghanistan in two years time will be interesting to see what the new and unexpected uses of the services are."

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

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