The Star (Nairobi)

8 November 2012

Kenya: Stage Set for Rapid Mobile Commerce Growth

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The Communications Commission of Kenya's latest data shows that there are 29 million mobile subscribers in Kenya. Considering Kenya's 22 million adults, there is now more than one mobile per Kenyan adult.

Nearly 20 million of these also subscribe to a mobile money service. Compare this to the largest bank which only has about 9 million bank accounts.

M-Pesa the most popular mobile money service is the default banking service for small funds transfers and now increasingly till payments.

Many of us cannot remember the last time we lined up to make a utility payment. Water and electricity services are paid for via mobile. Bill queries and payment services are seamless and tidy. This may just be some of the most efficient services provided by these utilities.

Safaricom, the Vodafone part-owned market leader is also the largest company in region. The company given its British roots finds itself in the same historical place as the company that introduced currency to Kenya.

The Imperial British East Africa Company (the largest in its time) was the main trading vehicle in Kenya and the company that oversaw the development of the railway and the telegraph in Kenya.

It is also the company through which currency was introduced. Whilst Kenya's banking sector has polished its act in the current decade, this has to be seen in the light of years of failed banks and poor banking services. To give a sense of scale, Safaricom is several times the size of Kenya's largest bank and M-Pesa's annual deposits are also several times the size of the deposits of the largest bank.

Kenya being a country dominated by small scale enterprises was possibly just the place for this service to flourish. Banks by nature of their business have often been unwieldy and in the past unfriendly to small depositors.

Imagine walking into a bank asking to send Sh100, first you line up a couple of minutes, then you fill a couple of forms and explain why you are sending the cash, them wait a couple of hours. This hustle was removed from money exchange by mobile money.

Our rural and urban lifestyles also encouraged the growth of mobile money ,urban dwellers often, have two homes. One is in the country side usually tens of kilometers away and one in the city where they work. The need to send money back and forth between these two places has created a large demand for mobile money services.

Millions of people also depend on small scale farming and trading. Traditional experience has shown Banks to be intrusive, unapproachable and expensive, whereas mobile money services give customers' control.

No need to submit details of people and explanations as to what you are sending money for. You simply top up and do the rest yourself.

In Kenya banking is increasingly mobile. Consumer communications is also bound to follow the money What better than to communicate with consumers when you know they have the money to buy what you are selling. M-Commerce is thus likely to grow here as rapidly as mobile money has, our consumers are already used to working this way anyway.

Frank is lead consultant at FMC and CEO at mobile agency Sponge. 

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