I’ve just read a heart-wrenching story about a Somali man robbed of $200 then shot dead by his assailants, no doubt a common story in a country racked by over 19 years of anarchy. However, a new mobile money transfer and banking system being introduced by mobile operator Hormuud Telecom could have saved this one life and is set to save many others.
Hormuud Telecom is the biggest network in Somalia with more than a million subscribers. It designed the software for its SAAD money transfer service, but was helped by neighbouring Kenya’ s Safaricom who’s M-pesa system has revolutionized cash handling for 8 million of its subscribers. Besides transferring cash to friends and relatives, people pay power bills and even receive dividends from some companies.
The new Hormuud service is expected to cut security risks posed by carrying huge wads of the Somali currency around various open markets in the battle-scarred south and central regions of the country.
Once clients have registered for the service, they can deposit cash with the mobile phone company and credits are loaded onto their phone. They can then send to other people signed up for the service at the press of a button.
The country’s mobile phone firms provide a crucial, cheap lifeline for Somalis to stay in touch during the frequent bouts of heavy fighting. Remittances through money transfer firms from the large Somali diaspora, estimated at around $1 billion a year, keep many Somali families alive.
Hormuud’s money transfer system works with US dollars, rather than the Somali shilling, and users can transfer up to $3,000 a day throughout southern and central Somalia. Businesses prefer transactions based on the dollar and other regional currencies such as the Kenyan shilling, UAE dirham and the Saudi riyal, to avoid the problems associated with an extremely weak Somali shilling.
Saving lives may not appear on the mission statements of many developed market mobile operators, but in Somalia financial and personal security could well become the greatest benefits provided.