A mobile revolution in Mauritanian financial services

A mobile revolution in Mauritanian financial services

Digital banking solutions have helped double financial inclusion levels in just a few years


Before the start of this decade, the penetration of banking services in Mauritania languished at under 20% of the population. Expanding financial inclusion in a vast country with huge expanses of desert, limited infrastructure and widely scattered cash-based communities presented the nation’s banks with understandable challenges, which had proved too costly to surmount.

That began to change in 2019, when banks started releasing mobile and digital banking apps in response to Mauritanians’ rapidly rising usage of smartphones and the internet, as well as the availability of technologies like unstructured supplementary service data, which allows users to make banking transactions on non-smart mobiles in areas with no data coverage. 

The first mobile banking solution came from Banque Populaire de Mauritanie (BPM), a universal bank created in 2012 that is now the national frontrunner in retail and corporate banking. According to its deputy CEO, Abderrahmane Hama-Vezaz, “Today, BPM has more than 550,000 individual, professional and business customers in Mauritania.”

The bank released its solution under the Bankily brand name. “Bankily is the leading mobile bank in the country both in terms of users and transaction volume and it became the mobile bank of choice for Mauritanians in urban and rural areas by offering them a free, local banking solution. More than 470 points of sale form the brand’s distribution network, which are located throughout the country,” says Hama-Vezaz. “With its launch, BPM revolutionized the banking market in Mauritania and its digital transformation by solidifying the entire mobile banking ecosystem.” Through Bankily, customers can easily transact with fellow users, major utility and telecom companies, supermarkets, medium-sized and smaller businesses. 

Among Bankily’s innovative elements, money can be transferred using just a recipient’s telephone number, a linked Facebook account, tap-and-pay or a QR code. “Banking innovation remains at the heart of BPM’s digital transformation strategy and we are about to launch a new version of our mobile and omnichannel bank with new features,” Hama-Vezaz reveals.

Most of Mauritania’s other banks quickly followed BPM into the market with their own mobile and digital banking solutions, which have also proved successful: by September 2023, financial inclusion had risen to around 38% of the population. To encourage further uptake, the Central Bank of Mauritania (BCM) will soon publish a national financial inclusion strategy that, among other things, aims to expedite the use of and promote access to mobile banking services. 

BCM’s 2023 launch of an automated transfer system will also have a big impact on inclusion, says Mohamed Bouna Moctar, director general of another leading bank, Banque El Amana: “This project introduces instant interbank exchanges, strengthening both mobile payments and digital banking services. BCM adopted this strategic orientation to improve the efficiency and security of payment systems, reduce cash payments and facilitate greater access to financial services for disadvantaged populations.”