South Africa's Standard Bank, one of the country's largest financial services groups, has joined forces with Chinese mobile payment provider WeChat Wallet of Tencent, offering its pan-African banking infrastructure to provide mobile payments throughout the continent.

In collaborating with WeChat Wallet – which already dominates the sector in China, where more than 358 million people use its mobile phones for commerce – Standard Bank aims to secure a piece of Africa’s rapidly growing mobile payments market. This is a recent instance in a larger movement whereby mobile payments are spreading throughout Africa, modernising the way Africans do business and improving their connectivity with the rest of the world. “If you look at the landscape in Africa from a mobile money perspective, Africa is leading the charge globally,” said Brett Loubser, head of WeChat South Africa.

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Across much of Africa, where banks are scarce and unreliable and where geography, politics or economy have hindered financial inclusion, the need for alternative methods of making payments and doing business has presented a vast market opportunity for mobile payments companies.

Other mobile payments providers such as Kenya’s M-Pesa, launched by Vodafone and Safaricom in 2007, have seen success in the large African market – M-Pesa’s 9 million registered users transfer on average $320m every month. In Kenya, mobile payments penetration is at 86% of households, according to consulting firm McKinsey. Nigeria, meanwhile, has 18 different mobile payments operators. While the continent has tremendous growth potential, according to investors, it needs improved connectivity and modern ICT infrastructure to truly thrive. Africa as a whole has an internet penetration rate of just 28.6% compared with a world average of 50%.

Marco Attisani, CEO of Watly, a company working to develop solutions for connectivity, energy and water in developing countries, commented: “Africa is being considered the China of 30 years ago by many leading economists, although it is hindered by a lack of infrastructure. There are many successful African enterprises operating across a wide landscape of sectors, which are in need of the opportunity to partner with international businesses. By allowing them access to connectivity and basic resources, we will start to build solid foundations on which African businesses can grow and discover their rightful place in the global economy.”

According to a Grupe Speciale Mobile Association Global Mobile Money Adoption Survey, by 2013 the number of mobile money accounts surpassed traditional bank accounts in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.