Despite an increase in subscribers to mobile money services in Malawi, the country has recorded low activity in this space in the first quarter of 2019, according to the latest report by the Reserve Bank of Malawi.
The National Payment System 2019 First Quarter report stated that only 39.7% of the 6.5 million mobile money subscribers used the service, compared to the 41.1% recorded during the last quarter of 2018.
The report did state: "This outcome is attributed to seasonal factors normally experienced in the first quarter of a year and the trend is expected to reverse during the second quarter due to the onset of agricultural produce trading season."
It added that the number of registered mobile money agents rose by 10.1% to a total of 43, 406 in March 2019, but said there was a drop in the number of active agents with only 59.3% recorded as being active during the quarter under review.
This is compared to 71.2% in Q4 2018.
The report suggested the drop is because some agents - particularly those in rural areas - divert their attention away from the market to focus on agriculture as crop planting season approaches.
It added that 71.4% of mobile money agents are located in urban and semi-urban areas with only 25.9% in rural areas. This reflects the ongoing challenge faced by rural communities in being able to access financial products and services.
Charles Banda, vice president of the Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA), said the low activity rate among mobile money consumers could be the result of low awareness of mobile phone products and services, as well as sparse availability of payment systems - especially in rural areas.
"The Reserve Bank of Malawi and mobile network operators still have a lot to do in terms of designing and implementing measures aimed at increasing deployment and usage of electronic payment products and services if the real financial inclusion is to be achieved in the country," Banda said.