Safaricom, Kenya’s largest telecommunications company, and Visa, a global digital payments company, have today announced a partnership that will enable the development of products that will support payments for M-PESA customers. This will be subject to regulatory approval.

The new partnership will give access to the Visa network to Safaricom M-PESA’S 24 million customers, and 173,000 Lipa Na M-PESA merchants. The customers and merchants will be able to access more than 61 million merchant locations throughout Visa’s global network, and over 3.4 billion Visa cards in more than 200 countries and territories.

Apparently, M-PESA accounts will now be linked to a Visa debit card that will allow customers to make payments abroad when they travel and also letting them transfer cash from their Visa-linked debit cards to their M-Pesa wallet even when they are abroad. The cards will be able to be used to purchase goods and services even online.

There have been similar attempts by Safaricom to have cards that will work in a similar way with partners such as I&M. I&M Bank’s M-PESA Prepay Safari Card is an international prepaid VISA card that can be loaded with Kenyan Shillings and used to make purchases worldwide at Visa merchants or withdrawals at ATMs. It works but you have to go outside the Safaricom network by making payments to the card and payments from the card are via the bank. There was also M-PESA 1Tap which was a complete failure. You could only use it at select outlets but the roll-out was not the best and it died a natural death.

In 2016, we had foreseen the need for such a card that will be linked to an M-PESA card and we are happy that this may now be a reality. This was our wish at the time “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.”

M-Pesa was launched by Safaricom in 2007 and it allows customers to send money to each other, make payments for goods and services through merchants and also save and borrow through partnerships with banks such as KCB and NCBA Bank. Safaricom is also widely used by companies and the Government to accept payments for various services including payments for passports, health services, land rates, parking among others.

Safaricom has partnered with various companies to enable cross-border transfer of money through M-PESA under a program called M-PESA Global. These companies include Western Union, PayPal and Alipay.

This marks a key point for the company and the new CEO Peter Ndegwa who took over from acting CEO Michael Joseph on April 1st 2020.