It is a sunny afternoon in Limbe, a clustered business town in Blantyre. At the heart of the buzzing spot, Aram Mall is a hive of activity.
Every minute, people come in and go out in large numbers, their faces glowing with smiles. Some come to cash in money from their friends and relatives in South Africa, others are about to receive. In a confined Mukuru Shop, about 25 are signing forms to cash in.
It is during month-ends that the hall overflows with clients.
Just across the floor, people are seated on chairs—deeply engrossed in filling names and details in the money collection forms. Those with valid identity cards—even voter registration IDs—need just five minutes to fill the forms and to proceed to the counter to receive money. When the shop is overcrowded, they queue, with four tellers serving the clients one by one.
Then enters Jane Phiri, 32, from Bangwe Township. Her brother Cosmas Phiri migrated to Durban, South Africa, last year.
“I have come to collect money he has sent for our upkeep. He went south last year and he is working there,” she says.
After the paperwork, she proceeds to the counter to collect K35 000. Some were seen collecting up to K500 000.
“We desparately need this money back home. Our mother is a widow. She will pay rent and buy food. He sends between K30 000 and K80 000every month,” she explains.
Her brother is one of numerous young Malawians fleeing the economic hardship, especially youth unemployment, in search of better-paying jobs in South Africa.
Their people left behind always look up to these migrant workers for help and Mukuru is just one of the digital money transfer that gives them the ease to dispatch part of their earnings home.
Every year, millions are being wired from South Africa using these transmission lines.
For people like Jane and her mother, they are happy to receive money easily and safely.
They do not hold any bank account. In their densely populated township, they used to cash in at a Zoona kiosk along Midima Road.
Now, she travels to Limbe since the agent for the local money transfer firm closed shop.
Those with mobile phones cash out on Mpamba from TNM agents throughout the country.
The ease to send and receive money from abroad excites Aida Bwanali, 35, from Chemusa in Blantyre.
Her husband, James Bwanali, works in East London in South Africa. Every month, he wires money for his wife and four children.
When we met, she wanted to collect K126 000.
“My husband sends money every week or month, depending on our pressing needs. He often sends between K50 000 and K100 000. When I get an alert on my phone, I know the money is in,” she says.
She hails Mukuru and Paisa for being faster and safer than the traditional method of sending money through friends and travellers
“Previously, my husband used to send money through some truck drivers and businesspeople. However, some were not honest. I was not getting the whole amount. Sometimes they were stealing the money,” Bwanali complains.
Aida has a bank account, but she does not use it for receiving money. She detests endless queues in banking halls and the daunting task of identifying herself as other banks do not recognise voter registration cards.
Mukuru, Paisa and other remittance companies focusing on money from Africans in diaspora does make her life easier, for she can access the money instantly.
In this way, they are connecting people with their friends, relatives and clients in diaspora using innovative financial technologies.
According to Mukuru Money Transfer country representative Peggy Mhone, the financial firm, founded in 2006, facilitates money transfers from South Africa, Zambia, the United Kingdom, European Union and Canada to the Southern African Development Community [Sadc] region and beyond.
It has been operating in Malawi for over five years.
“In the last few years, Mukuru brand has grown tremendously in all areas—market shares, sales volumes as well as visibility. Presently, we have partnered with Finca, NBS Bank, Post Dot Net, Malawi Post Corporation, Opportunity Bank, TNM and Zoona to bring our service closer to the people and expand our footprint and accessibility,” she explains.
Monthly assessments by the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM), the customer base of payment services aided by mobile network operators, of which Mukuru and Paisa are partners, expanded by 2.6 percent to 4.3 million in August.
About 17.6 percent of the subscribers are based in rural areas, while the rest are in semi-urban and urban areas.
Out of almost 30 055 agents that support provision of mobile money services, 6 522 are in rural areas where most Malawians have no bank accounts.
This makes digital money transfer agents part of the push for financial inclusion as almost 80 in 100 Malawians have no access to financial services, including banking.
As Aida leaves the offices for Che Musa, she is happy that one of her major heartbreaks is over.
“Now, I’m ready to pay fees for my son who is in secondary school. The new academic year has just begun. I don’t want her to be expelled,” she says. n