There's been a lot of buzz about mobile money for some time now. Mostly, people seem preplexed by an apparent mystery. How is it that this "low-tech" revolution has been so successful in places like east Africa, Pakistan and Cambodia for what seems like a decade now, yet it just doesn't seem to be catching up in Europe or the USA? Just recently, some legislature has been making its way around Europe, and big corporations have been making some progress with this mobile money thing. It even prompted a German politician to make the far-fetched comment that cash will soon be a thing that our children will only read about in history books.
First of all, I'd like to reassure you that cash isn't going anywhere any time soon. Digital transactions, including mobile, can not completely replace cash, and they are not meant to. You may not be aware of this, but even with our hugely successful banking industry, and with the Internet and electronic payments and all that... something like 80% of ALL payments in the world are still done in cash, to this day. (For a sample reference, google for "World Payment Report 2011"). While this number is _slowly_ declining, the "end of cash" is not anywhere in sight yet. In fact, it is not even on the agenda.
Cash has multiple benefits compared to non-cash payments, which have stood the test of time over the centuries. And while it is expensive to process, somewhat inconvenient to use, and disliked by many.. the benefits tremendously outweigh the disadvantages. Anonymity is probably one of the most significant benefits, as are historical and cultural bias, perceived security, the lack of fees and taxes on cash payments, etc.
Getting back to our topic, however... Mobile money as it exists and thrives in Kenya (M-Pesa), Uganda (MTN Mobile Money), and other places that traditionally lag behind technologically, has not caught up in Europe and the USA largely because there is no demand. There is no real problem to be solved. We have bank accounts here. We have credit and debit cards. We make on-line payments regularly. We have things like direct debit. I can't remember the last time I queued up to pay a bill. A good percentage of all my shopping is done from my laptop or my iPhone. Sure, there are inefficiencies and nusiances and things that can be done better, but.. no real pain to be healed, no real problem to be solved here. Moreover, in the west there has been enormous opposition from banks and credit card companies to something like mobile money (not to be confused with "mobile banking").
Mobile money is successful in Africa, because it serves a huge population of unbanked customers. It came in and it filled a big void. It also solved a big problem about the physical security of carrying cash around. And it was convenient. So it took off big time. None of these things (except maybe "convenience" to some extent) are factors here in Europe though.
In summary, while I can't deny that some form of this technology is stubornly comming our way, it isn't likely to be anything as turbulent and disruptive as what we've seen in Africa. And predictions that it will do away with cash payments or card payments are, frankly, quite ridiculous.