Since its launch in 2007, M-Pesa had grown into a force in money transfer in Kenya. Since it’s launch it has pivoted from just being a money transfer service into payments and savings and loans. It now possible for customers to pay bills for companies like Zuku, KPLC and even Safaricom via M-Pesa. With the introduction first of M-Kesho and thereafter M-Shwari and KCB M-Pesa, customers can save and get short term loans through M-Pesa.
In the last Safaricom financial year, the value of the money that moved through MPESA stood at Ksh. 5.29 Trillion. 64% of the transactions were deposits, person to person transfers and withdrawals. The remaining 36% covered business to customer transfers, customer payment or transfers via PayBill, International money transfer and customer payment via Lipa Na M-Pesa (Buy Goods).
While M-Pesa payments have grown, they are still scratching the surface and more can be done to further entrench it as a payment conduit. Paying with M-PESA is a tedious process because of the USSD system it uses. As Bankelele noted in a recent article, ‘It takes about 25 presses to do an M-Pesa transaction. M-Pesa is not convenient if you’re in a rush, and with so many menus and buttons to press, it’s also easier to make mistakes and send money to the wrong business account. You have to be active and pay attention and also confirm with a staff member, showing them your phone screen, before you commit. Even then, they look at the message generated on your phone, and trust that it’s genuine, as they often don’t have access to the business phone where the message confirmation is sent.”
The M-Pesa payment process could be made easier with an app. For the app to be payment convenient it needs to be able to tap into the Lipa Na M-Pesa database and confirm the payment number before starting the payment process. This is important because it will reduce incidents of payments to wrong numbers and also remove the need to confirm payment numbers with the staff of the establishment you are paying at. It would also make it easier to use M-Pesa in sectors like transport where payment speed is important.
In addition to the app, a debit card would be a nice addition to the M-Pesa family. The card, if linked to a customer’s MPESA account would provide an additional payment channel for M-Pesa clients. It would remove the need to confirm numbers and would make payments, in establishments with a point of sale system, easy. If Safaricom could go further and connect the card to Visa and MasterCard, it would open up the card to online payments which could change the game completely. It also means that the card could double up as a travel card.
Safaricom launched Lipa na M-Pesa online in 2013. To date, I am not aware of any website that has implemented it and uses it successfully. This service is important because it would allow online businesses to use MPESA as a payment option. This service has been crippled by the closed nature of the MPESA API and basically how hard it is for developers integrate to it. Developer Kariuki Marima expressed his frustration in an article with the unfriendly nature of the application process and the lack of proper developer support. Another hurdle facing it is the fact that each company linking into the API needs to pitch their idea and be approved by the Safaricom team. The costs are also not clear as Safaricom decides on revenue share models on a case by case model. With the continued growth of online shopping on websites like Jumia, Rupu and Kilimall, Safaricom needs to invest in an easier online payment solution that is modelled more like PayPal. This would make it easier to implement and use the service for those with online businesses.
The M-Pesa payments opportunity is huge. The opportunity here is monetary for Safaricom and also to solve problems on both the business and customer side. It will be interesting to see how Safaricom innovates in this space going forward.