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Mobile Banking in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is one of the last countries in Africa to permit mobile banking. Mobile banking has proved to be profitable in the developing world, where many people still do not use banks.

Earlier this year, the World Bank reported that 75 percent of the world's poor are "unbanked." That is about 2.5 billion people. Banking through mobile phones lets people take part in financial services even if they are not near a bank.Until recently, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe were the only nations in Africa without mobile money services. Now, that has changed for Ethiopia.

BelCash and M-Birr are mobile banking technology providers. They have been setting up mobile banking and mobile money services in Ethiopia for the past three years. The Dutch company BelCash is working in partnership with banks to provide easier access to financing through bank accounts.

Ireland-based M-Birr is a mobile money service that works with microfinance groups where no registration with a bank is needed. Ethiopia's mobile phone industry is young. And wireless service coverage in the country is not well developed. The pressure on the wireless network is expected to increase.

In the past four years, the number of mobile users grew from three to 17 million. And Ethiopia's telecommunications provider, Ethio Telecom, expects that number to grow to 40 million in the next three years. The government closely controls Ethiopia's telecommunications market. That means there is only one provider. Competition is not permitted.

The National Bank of Ethiopia recently finished a draft order on how mobile banking services should be structured. This comes as international companies have shown interest in starting mobile banking services.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Carolyn Presutti. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 16Nov2012)