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Kenya: Mobile money making wallets redundant

Nairobi businessman George Agode runs a tents, video and photography business in which he has specialized in offering services at weddings.
Each weekend, Agode, who has four employees, covers at least two weddings, which means he has to hire more staff, especially for his tent business.
“I hire at least six workers every Saturday. Two of them handle photography and video coverage while the rest help in erecting tents. Sometimes we handle the same function, but other times the tents are hired at a different wedding,” he said in an interview to Xinhua recently.
Agode has been in the business for close to five years and at the end of each day when his employees, particularly the casuals, finish work, he ensures he pays them.
However, he does not pay them in cash but through the mobile phone.
“They give me their mobile phone numbers before we begin work and when a wedding is over, I pay them through mobile money. I ensure that one must have a mobile money account for ease of payment,” recounted Agode, who pays the employees between 11.7 U. S. dollars and 29 dollars.
The practice he has engaged in for over two years has seen him do away with his wallet, which has been part of the 39-year-old for over two decades.
Agode is among businesspersons and Kenyans in the East African nation who have embraced mobile money, which in turn has seen them dispose or sparingly use their wallets.
Kenyans used the wallet, usually made of leather to carry cash, ATM, debit and credit cards, among other items, that can fit in the small case, which men safely put in their back trouser pockets and women in their hand bags.
But now, widespread use of mobile money is gradually challenging and replacing wallets, which for years millions of Kenyans have used to carry cash.
“I do not remember when is the last time I walked around with a wallet with let’s say 117 dollars in it. But I carry double that amount of money in my mobile phone almost every day,” narrated Agode.
The businessman said he replaced his wallet with a small document case where he puts his identity card and ATM card.
“I also put in it small amount of cash, at most 23 dollars, which I use when I go to places where traders do not accept mobile payments or when I want to buy things like bottled water,” he said, adding that he carries the case in his jacket and not back trouser pocket as it used to happen with the wallet.
Agode noted that in Kenya , mobile money is making wallets become redundant as people seek safer and easy ways to carry cash.
“With widespread use of mobile money, carrying huge amounts of cash in your wallet is no longer fashionable. I can carry over 600 dollars in my mobile phone account but I cannot walk around with such an amount of money without people noticing,” he said.
The businessperson observed that many people in the East African nation are finding mobile money convenient method of carrying cash because of security reasons.
“In Nairobi , walking around with a wallet full of money at some places puts you at risk of being mugged and losing your cash. But when the money is in a mobile phone, yes you can be mugged but you will not lose your cash because it is secure,” he said.
Sandra Njiru, an administrative assistant at a motor company in the capital, noted that while she had not done away with her wallet, she no longer uses it to carry cash.
“The wallet has several of my documents that include credit, voter and identity card, but rarely do I put in cash there. I do not believe it is necessary to do so since I have my debit card and mobile money account, where I put my money,” she said.
Soon, Njiru observed she may do away with her wallet if she finds an alternative way of carrying her cards.
“I only need to find a nice bag with good compartments and the wallet will be gone. But I am still holding on to the wallet because it has been part of me for several years. Besides that, my mother bought it for me as a present after I finished high school, “ she said.
Wallets in the East African nation are suffering the fate of wrist watches, which have been abandoned because people depend on their mobile phones for time keeping.
“Definitely, wallets are on the road to extinction, just like watches. Mobile phones are taking over their roles. It is just a matter of time before majority of people here fully embrace the mobile phone wallet and they will be gone,” said Agode.
Central Bank latest data indicates that as at August, there were 19.3 million mobile phone subscribers in Kenya . The subscribers make close to 50 million transactions each month worth about 1.53 billion dollars.
However, as people do away with wallets, Agode and Njiru noted that carrying money in mobile phone needs a lot of planning since not all businesses have embraced mobile payments.
“This means that I have to withdraw some cash from my mobile money account so that I can use at places, which I cannot make transactions through mobile phone. It is inconveniencing, but I believe this will end soon as people extensively adopt mobile money transactions,” said Njiru.
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