The use of digital financial services, including money transfers and mobile money, have expanded widely in lower-income countries in the past decade; 47 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa (548 million) had a registered mobile money account in 2020, with 29 per cent of those accounts representing active users (Andersson-Manjang and Naghavi 2021: 8).
Among lower-income countries for which data is available, the average number of mobile money accounts is more than double the number of commercial bank accounts. In many lower-middle-income countries, mobile money usage is the same or more than commercial bank usage (Bazarbash et al. 2020). Alongside this growth, governments have increasingly sought to tax DFS, rooted in deeper discussions about the role that technology can play in increasing tax revenue and strengthening overall state capacity (Fan et al. 2020; Okunogbe and Santoro 2021).
While capturing revenue from DFS can come from many sources, mobile money taxes in particular have often been introduced due to the untapped revenue potential and the relatively convenient and easy nature of the tax handle (Lees and Akol 2021a) – particularly in relation to, say, corporate income taxes on financial service providers. As noted above, the search for revenue is often closely linked to a desire to capture revenue from workers in the informal economy, who are often framed as tax evaders.