A Complete Guide to Mobile Wallets

A Complete Guide to Mobile Wallets

Contributed by: Elie Bertha

Mobile wallets are among the key modes of digital payment that saw a surge in adoption during COVID-19. The pandemic has had a massive impact on the world of payments, with people turning towards online methods as a safer transaction method than using cash to pay for shopping, food deliveries, utility bills, and much more.

According to the GSMA Mobile Money State of the Industry Report 2022, the mobile money industry processed over USD1 trillion worth of transactions in 2021, a whopping 31% year-on-year increase compared to 2020. At the same time, the global number of registered mobile money accounts grew 18.1% to 1.35 billion, with the volume of person-to-person transactions increasing to more than 1.5 million every hour.

The unprecedented growth of global mobile money is expected to keep accelerating, especially in emerging markets like Africa where access to traditional financial services is difficult. According to Boku’s 2021 Mobile Wallets Report, more than half of the world’s population is projected to use mobile wallets by 2025.

In this article, we’ll explore what mobile wallets are and why they’re so popular around the world. Below is a summary of the points we will cover:

  • What is a mobile wallet?
  • Key players in the mobile wallet market
  • Industry trends of mobile wallets
  • Merchant payments with mobile wallets
  • How do mobile wallets drive financial inclusion?
  • How Thunes connects mobile wallets to its global cross-border payments network

What is a mobile wallet?

It’s in the name: a mobile wallet is a virtual wallet accessible via a mobile device like a phone or a tablet. Also known as digital wallets and ewallets, mobile wallets allow users to store money, make payments, manage their accounts, and access various financial services without a bank account.

There are three broad types of mobile wallets available today:

  1. Closed-loop wallets: Also known as stored-value wallets, closed-loop wallets allow users to top up a certain spending account that is linked to a credit/debit card. These spending accounts are linked to specific merchants and can be used for in-store payments and online purchases via merchant platforms. Examples include ShopeePay, GrabPay, and Alipay.
  2. Open-loop wallets: Also known as card-based wallets, open-loop wallets provide an avenue for users to link their credit and debit cards to their mobile phones. Users can easily make payments by tapping their phones at any NFC-enabled payment terminal. Examples include Google Pay, Apple Pay, and PayPal.
  3. Semi-closed-loop wallets: Semi-closed-loop wallets allow users to shop and transfer virtual funds to other accounts within the same wallet network. These wallets typically operate on a local/regional scale, with examples including Paytm and Mobikwik.

Key players in the mobile wallet market

While the mobile wallet market is highly saturated, a few key players are consistently trusted and utilised by consumers. Below is a list of the key mobile wallet players divided by region:


All countriesOrange Money
MTN Mobile Money
Airtel Money
Tigo Pesa
KenyaMPESA Kenya
Tanzania / Ghana / Democratic Republic of the Congo / MozambiqueMPESA Group

Asia Pacific

Southeast AsiaGrabPay
MalaysiaTouch ‘N Go
RabbitLINE Pay
South KoreaKakaoPay
Phone Pe
Amazon Pay
Oxigen Wallet
Citrus Wallet
UBL Omni
Sri LankaEzcash
IME pay
Namaste Pay

Latin America

El SalvadorTigo Wallet
GuatemelaTigo Wallet
Pagseguro / Pagbank




UK and IrelandAmazon Payments

Industry trends of mobile wallets

Global trends

According to Boku’s 2021 Mobile Wallets Report, the global number of mobile wallet users will increase by nearly 74%, from 2.8 billion in 2020 to 4.8 billion in 2025. At the same time, Juniper Research projects that the value of digital wallet transactions will soar from USD7.5 trillion in 2022 to over USD12 trillion in 2026.

COVID-19 has been a key accelerator for mobile wallet adoption worldwide, as people turn to safe, contactless channels to make purchases, pay bills, receive payments, and send money to their loved ones. Merchant Machine identified people’s fear of contracting the virus at high-traffic ATMs and retailers’ refusal to accept cash as the leading causes behind the increased adoption.

The willingness of mobile money providers to diversify their suite of services was also identified as a key contributor to this growth. This is indicated by the expansion of bill payments, bulk disbursements, merchant payments, and international remittances from less than 10% to 20% between 2012 and 2022.

Regional growth trends

Asia Pacific

Mobile wallet adoption is especially rampant in Asia Pacific, where 60% of consumers used digital wallets to make payments in 2021 – higher than any other region globally. In China, for one, at least 72% of payment transactions were made with wallets like Alipay and WeChat Pay in 2021.

As Ravi Sharma, Lead Banking and Payments Analyst at GlobalData, aptly remarked,

The availability of low-cost smartphones, rising Internet penetration, growing awareness of mobile payments and the proliferation of mobile wallets has resulted in Asian countries shifting from cash transactions to mobile wallet payments.

Meanwhile, Southeast Asia will have the fastest mobile wallet growth in the next few years, with usage projected to grow by 311%, from 141.1 million in 2020 to 439.7 million in 2025.

Africa and Middle East

Africa and the Middle East, the second largest mobile wallet market, is projected to grow even further by 147% from 2020 to 2025. This growth is attributed to the increased usage of money services like M-Pesa for ecommerce.

Latin America

As for Latin America, mobile wallet use is expected to increase by 166% between 2020 and 2025 thanks to the rise of ecommerce in the region, with sales growing by 37% in 2020 to reach USD85 billion.

Western Europe and North America

Western Europe and North America will grow by just 65% and 50% respectively by 2025. But these figures could change, given the increase in card-based mobile wallets that resulted from the pandemic-induced shift to contactless payments.

Merchant payments with mobile wallets

Mobile wallets broaden merchant acceptance

The mobile wallet ecosystem is constantly expanding to offer greater value to both merchants and consumers alike. 

From a simple tool offered by Google to make payments with a select few merchants in 2011, the mobile wallet has since evolved into a convenient payment method for groceries, food and drinks, transport, and many more.

As an example, imagine you’re having a vacation in Africa. Thanks to the global interoperability of mobile wallets, you’ll be able to pay for your coffee or even a safari tour with your preferred payment method.

Globally, mobile wallets have created strong local networks of merchant acceptance. These networks are compatible with all kinds of payments, regardless of value and whether they are online or offline.
While mobile wallets are a fantastic way to enhance online checkouts and boost conversions, it is important to note that no two wallets are the same. Each wallet operates differently from the rest of its competitors, and merchants must cater to all these individual rules as they expand internationally.

The fragmentation problem

The situation only becomes more complicated in countries that have fragmented payment systems, particularly those in Asia. Here, countries typically have complete payment infrastructure where local debit settlement and international card networks compete and complement each other.

Take Singapore as an example. The fabric of the island nation’s payment system was once fragmented, beginning from the local debit card settlement organisation NETS. Under NETS, six debit-issuing banks are consolidated under one banner.

Apart from NETS, Singapore is also a hub for all six international card organisations, including Visa, Mastercard, Amex, UnionPay, Diners Club/Discovery, and JCB. 

Today, NETS and international card networks are integrated together, with most merchants in Singapore accepting both as viable payment methods.

Throw mobile wallets into the mix and the fragmentation problem is only accelerated. India certainly faces this problem as it begins to outpace the world in digital payments, with the total value of the country’s digital payments projected to hit $1 trillion by 2026. 

While the country’s ready acceptance of digital payments has vastly improved transaction costs, accessibility, and transparency, this came at a cost. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Gita Gopinath, the rise of digital payments could potentially further “fragmen[tise] the international payment system, which would be broken down into smaller blocs based on geopolitical situations”.

In turn, this means that merchants would have to quickly implement the technology needed to integrate new payment methods into their networks as they appear.

How do mobile wallets drive financial inclusion?

Mobile wallets are important drivers of financial inclusion. This is because digital wallets are far more accessible than traditional financial services such as bank accounts, which tend to be harder to access. Traditional bank accounts are much more expensive to use due to intermediary correspondent banks that charge a mixture of fees, minimum deposit requirements, and other upfront costs.

Mobile wallets are typically easier to register and use than traditional bank accounts, granting both unbanked and banked users easy access to financial services. The onboarding process is simple: download an app, complete a simple online onboarding form, and you are good to go. These forms usually don’t require proof of income or your address.

With mobile wallets on hand, users can make or receive payments, pay bills, make airtime top-ups, send money to their loved ones, and more. 

Furthermore, mobile wallet providers make their services highly accessible via a comprehensive network of physical transactional points. This means that people can easily access financial services through any method, whether it be an agent, ATM, or other kinds of network.

The creator economy is a fantastic example of the kinds of businesses mobile wallets serve. Scattered all over the world and offering freelance services for international clients, content creators tend to favour localised digital payment methods. Mobile wallets enable them to send and receive multiple small online cross-border payments efficiently and affordably. Mobile wallets are especially important for the 1.7 billion-strong global unbanked population. Of this number, 1.1 billion adults own mobile phones – close to two-thirds of the world’s population. With mobile phones serving as a crucial gateway for mobile wallets through apps and super apps, mobile wallets have become a convenient way to access financial services without a bank account.

How Thunes connects mobile wallets for a borderless payment experience

Thunes has built a global payment network that spans across continents and includes hundreds of mobile wallets. This network enables customers to make both online and offline payments with their preferred mobile wallet no matter where they are. 

Our global cross-border payments network currently covers over 130 countries and 1.5 billion mobile wallet users — and this list continues to grow. 

By connecting to this global network, mobile wallets can enable multiple new payment services for their users:

  • Allow customers to receive transfers into their wallets from other countries and continents
  • Integrate cross-border payments into your user experience
  • Enable payments with local wallets on international websites and global platforms in home currencies
  • Enable payments with mobile wallets in retail and POS environment abroad

To learn more about how Thunes helps mobile wallets scale, or to integrate a mobile wallet payments into your payment experience, explore our Network capabilities or get in touch with our team.

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