The Second Coming of M-Shwari: Beyond Early Adopters

M-Shwari is taking the world of mobile money and digital credit by storm. But will it really enable those traditionally unbanked - especially women, people in  rural areas, and those living below the poverty line - to access formal banking services?

In an effort to figure this out, InterMedia, a global research consultancy, conducted a study of M-Shwari users as part of its Financial Inclusion Insights Program (FII) in 2013 and 2014. The program is funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and captures timely demand-side data and practical insights about access to and usage of digital financial services (DFS).

According to the first FII survey in Kenya, in just over a year after launch, M-Shwari achieved the highest level of awareness and use compared with other beyond-basic mobile wallet products in Kenya. In 2013, 66% of Kenyan adults and 87% of mobile money users knew about M-Shwari; 10% and 12%, respectively, were using the product (Figure 1). However, the demographic makeup of M-Shwari users in 2013 was typical of the so-called “early adopters” of new technology: mostly urban, living above the poverty line and young, although the split between male and female users was close to equal.

Figure 1. M-Shwari’s awareness, use and user profile in 2013

Source: InterMedia Kenya FII Tracker survey Wave 1 (N=3,000, 15+), September-October, 2013.

The second FII survey in 2014 showed a significant increase in M-Shwari users (Figure 2). This increase occurred while overall, mobile money uptake reached a plateau between 2013 and 2014. Almost all new M-Shwari users during this period were from the existing mobile money user group. There were very few cases of M-Shwari driving mobile money uptake, if any at all. The demographic characteristics of the M-Shwari user group changed quite dramatically during this time, demonstrating higher uptake among rural populations and adults living below the poverty line, although the bulk of M-Shwari users are still younger than 35.

Figure 2. M-Shwari’s awareness, use and user profile in 2014

Source: InterMedia Kenya FII Tracker survey Wave 2 (N=2,995, 15+), September 2014.

Beyond basic demographic features, there is an interesting transformation in the four segments that constitute the group of M-Shwari users: urban males, urban females, rural males and rural females (Figure 3).

In 2013, urban, financially successful men and women dominated M-Shwari’s customer base. The typical M-Shwari customers were men with stable jobs and responsible financial habits (saving regularly)or women with  good jobs  and financially stable families that benefited from a husband’s salary and/or remittances from extended families.

Figure 3. M-Shwari’s user segmentation in 2013 and 2014

Source: InterMedia FII Tracker surveys in Kenya, Wave 1, September-October 2013, N=3,000, and Wave 2 (N=2,995, 15+), September 2014.

But in 2014, M-Shwari’s customer base fundamentally shifted. Rural men are now the dominant segment of M-Shwari users while urban women remain the second largest segment.

Most M-Shwari users are young and well-educated with close-to-universal ownership of mobile phones and mobile money accounts. However, each segment has a unique financial profile and financial needs, which is reflected in how they use M-Shwari (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Summary of the 2014 M-Shwari user segments

Source: InterMedia FII Tracker surveys in Kenya, Wave 1, September-October 2013, N=3,000, and Wave 2 (N=2,995, 15+), September 2014.

Check the FII website,, for news and updates on M-Shwari and financial inclusion in Kenya. Contact Dr. Anastasia Mirzoyants-McKnight directly for more information at



16 April 2015 Submitted by Graham Seel (not verified)

The challenge of reaching rural women may have much to do with low levels of financial literacy (among other factors such as lack of even mobile phone history as a surrogate for credit history). One additional possible entry point (in addition to mobile money services like M-Pesa) would be communities with existing informal savings schemes such as Village Savings and Loans. The Barclays Bank partnership with CARE International in Uganda is a great example, as well as some options being explored by World Renew with one or two of its in-country partners. VSLA and similar semi-formal structures start to address other Financial Inclusion barriers, such as gender, age and disability discrimination, and lack of credit history (starting to be addressed with mobile-based record-keeping). See…

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