What’s happening in Kenya?
Safaricom and Airtel recently made their mobile money services interoperable. M-PESA and Airtel Money will work together seamlessly removing some of the logistical hassles that were involved in making payments from one mobile money service to the next. A 3rd player, Telkom – through its recently launched T-kash- is also said to be joining the interoperability at a later date.
With the newly enabled interoperability, M-PESA users can now send money directly to Airtel Money users and have them receive it in their mobile wallet, and vice-versa.
Initially, if an Airtel user sent money to a M-PESA user, the M-PESA user actually had to go to an Airtel Agent to withdraw the money (similar to the current situation with Zim’s mobile money services).
Now, these transactions will be seamless and the move is also meant to bolster competitiveness in Kenya’s mobile money arena. The interoperability is expected to increase competition in the mobile money as Airtel Money is trailing M-PESA, who have 80.8% of the mobile money market in Kenya, by a distance.
The interoperability will increase Airtel Money’s transactions (by users) from the current 0.6 transactions p/m compared to M-PESA’s 6 transactions per month.
The Telcos had been testing the service internally since January and sometime next week it goes live. This got me thinking…
What happened with our own mobile money interoperability?
Back in February, Supa Mandiwanzira, the Minister of ICT and Cyber Security gave a directive to all the Telcos to make their mobile money services interoperable by the 1st of April, which was 10 days ago!
So, why the silence considering the fact that the directive’s tone made it appear as if all hell would break loose if the Telcos had not complied by the deadline day?
Well, a lot has happened since the directive and it may have played a part in creating this silence.
EcoCash opened their doors to everyone (who has a smartphone)!
It came as a shock when EcoCash began allowing subscribers from NetOne and Telecel to register for EcoCash shortly after the directive by the ICT Ministry. This move may not have necessarily been to facilitate the interoperability but the timing seemed responsive. Right now the closest thing we have to interoperability is this more welcoming version of EcoCash.
The problem is even this is not a universal solution for a number of reasons. If you are a NetOne or Telecel subscriber and you register for EcoCash, the service will only work if you have a smartphone. This is because right now the EcoCash system is only accessible via the app if you use NetOne or Telecel. If you are on either of these networks you cannot access EcoCash via the *151# USSD code. In its current state, the integration is imperfect and does not serve everyone which is the point of interoperability. The wallet to wallet transactions are also not possible which effectively rules out the move by EcoCash as interoperability.
In fact, EcoCash’s move is actually an attempt by them to grow the EcoCash brand as they have probably reached a point where very few new subscriptions to EcoCash are coming from Econet subscribers. This is why they now have to reach out to other networks.
The other networks were in agreement with interoperability
When we reached out to Telecel they welcomed the idea of interoperability and also mentioned that there was a desire to work together from multiple parties. This could suggest that interoperability is on its way but the Telcos and other involved parties are still trying to figure out the best way to approach it.
Give the people what they need!
As stressed before, the people stand to benefit from interoperability. Subscribers will no longer have to have two lines – one being specifically for EcoCash- anymore. Secondly, those who have stuck to one network (particularly those on Telecash and OneMoney) will now be able to access goods and services even if the only payment method is EcoCash.
Sending money to other networks will be much more convenient if interoperability is adopted. For example, if a user sends money from OneMoney to EcoCash, the EcoCash user will not then have to go to an agent to get their money. The money will instantly reflect in their EcoCash wallet. This means in an emergency you don’t have to go look for an agent whilst precious time is being lost.
Secondly, Mandiwanzira made a valid point when he noted that the dominance of EcoCash could be disastrous if their service crashes at any point and this would create utter chaos.
Once this dominance is disrupted, all the mobile money platforms will be competing on offering the best service and not necessarily because one network provider already has more users than others. This would be beneficial to users because they would end up using services based on other factors like which mobile money service has the best transaction charges.
Another result of this dominance is it is difficult to hold EcoCash accountable in case something goes wrong. Right now if you are on EcoCash and you experience troubles, ditching the service is the last resort that you may not take simply because of the inconvenience that would be caused by switching to another service.
The government should follow up on this issue!
Yes, the likelihood of this happening is very unlikely but I think the benefits for people all over the country should compel the government to continue pursuing this issue and make sure that wallet to wallet mobile interoperability becomes a thing.
Of course, the government’s relationship (or at least the previous government’s) with Econet was not very rosy, so usually a directive that stood to put Econet Wireless at a disadvantage people took it very personally but I do not think this is one of those cases.
Supa Collins Mandiwanzira is a Zimbabwean politician, entrepreneur, former government minister and former journalist. He is the former Minister of Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security in the Republic of Zimbabwe. Mandiwanzira is the founder of Zimbabwe's only privately owned radio station, ZiFM Stereo through... Read More About Supa Mandiwanzira