Since its launch in 2007 by mobile-phone giant Vodafone and local partners, M-Pesa has taken East Africa by storm. Today more than 18 million users, most in Kenya and Tanzania, use the mobile-phone wallet to transfer billions of dollars a month. The technology has brought new financial options to places where banks and credit cards are scarce and cash has long been king, promising a faster, cheaper, more secure way to pay for things and send money.
The service enables cell-phone owners to essentially use their mobile device like a bank card. After registering as a user with an M-Pesa agent, a customer can upload money onto the phone. Those funds can then be used for many transactions, from grocery purchases to paying utility bills.