Financial inclusion continues to deepen in the East African region. InterMedia’s latest Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) data shows that in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, 73%, 56% and 46% of adults, respectively, are financially included, and nearly all of them have registered mobile money accounts.  As financial inclusion expands, more attention is being placed on how the public and private sector can promote the use of digital financial services (DFS) and products for a broader set of use cases. 

Technology and innovation, an enabling government policy and regulatory environment, and infrastructure improvements are the key catalysts for advancing financial inclusion, according to a number of experts in the field. These catalysts were a major theme throughout the recent Seamless East Africa 2018 Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, held Sept. 3 -5, where speakers and panelists delved into the next steps toward deepening financial inclusion, including DFS product development and education.


Key takeaways from Seamless East Africa 2018:

The keynote speaker at the conference was Kosta Peric, Deputy Director of the Financial Services for the Poor (FSP) Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr. Peric is the champion of the Mojaloop platform for interoperability between digital financial services from different providers. He noted that, “Mobile money is a way to connect customers to each other, to greater options and opportunity.”

Today, mobile money is fast expanding beyond its classic use case – send money home. A mobile money account increasingly provides access to a growing ecosystem of financial products and services, such as saving, borrowing, insurance and investments. In fact, FII 2017 data showed almost six in 10 adults in Kenya (57%) were active 90-day mobile money users who used their accounts for activities beyond person-to-person transfers and cash-in-cash-out.


The Seamless conference was full of DFS providers working on expanding the financial ecosystem. Innovation in the agricultural finance sector is particularly hot; DigiFarm, developed by Safaricom in partnership with Mercy Corps, iProcure, FarmDrive and Arifu, are all good examples of digital products that respond to the needs of large numbers of farmers in Kenya.

It is without a doubt that “mobile is an effective way of reaching out to a greater number,” according to Sylvia Nyamai, product lead at Safaricom’s DigiFarm. The DigiFarm mobile platform gives farmers the ability to make financial transactions through their phones, but also enables them to access a variety of services including farm inputs and agricultural information, and to find buyers for their products.

The fast pace of change, however, brings the risk of leaving behind some potential customers. In discussing the customer journey, panelists at the conference noted that most products in Kenya only attract about 35% female users. This is consistent with the findings from 2017 FII data that showed women in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya lagged behind their male counterparts by 20, 18 and 10 percentage points, respectively, in the adoption of advanced use cases for mobile money. To be able to close these gaps and increase DFS uptake among women, product developers need to tailor products to their needs.

Hilda Moraa, founder and CEO of Pezesha and one of the panelists leading the “P2P payments: the new norm of millennials” discussion, noted, “Although the cost of P2P [transactions] is high, it remains the most performed transaction.”  FSP Deputy Director Peric said interoperability is one solution to the high cost of these DFS transactions, and the newly introduced interoperability in Kenya could bring about further deepening of financial inclusion.  

In the panel discussion, “Harnessing DFS to accelerate financial inclusion,” Jeremy Awori, managing director at Barclays Bank of Kenya, discussed the advantages of DFS versus cash. He noted, “It is costly to move around with cash” when you consider the time spent going to locations to pay for bills in person and the security risks cash poses. According to Awori, any creative tensions between innovators and regulators can eventually bring about a balance between convenience and costs by answering the question of “what is the opportunity cost of walking around with cash?”

Finally, with the number and variety of digital credit sources available in the market today, especially in Kenya, financial education was cited as a topic that needs to be emphasized with consumers so they can make informed decisions, and choose the products that best meet their needs without being exploited and overcharged. The need for financial education was supported by FII 2017 data, which showed only 28%, 24% and 22% of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania adults, respectively, were financially literate.

Waruguru Ituu, founder of Change Corner, a startup company focused on educating women on the different financial services products available to them, discussed the importance of financial education during a panel discussion on “Financial literacy’s role in inclusion.” She advocated for the addition of “financial education as a life skill” to school curriculums, and for financial service providers to create learning groups that could use trusted role models from within communities to help with awareness and education programs.

For more information regarding the FII team’s research in Africa visit or contact Beatrice Cheronoh, Financial Inclusion Insights. If you are interested in seeing additional information about the factors that affect financial inclusion in Africa, we encourage you to visit the Data Fiinder at

Financial Inclusion Insights is an ongoing research program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and designed to build meaningful knowledge about how the financial landscape is changing across eight countries in Africa and Asia (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and Uganda).