3 August 2014

Kenya: Equity Awaits CA's Go-Ahead On Thin SIM

Photo: Lilian Mutegi/CIO
Equity Bank CEO Dr James Mwangi (2nd right) is joined by, from left Adil El Youssefi, CEO Airtel Africa; Eng. John Waweru, Chairman Finserve Africa Ltd and John Staley, Chief Officer, Finance, Innovation and Technology during the unveiling ceremony at Equity Centre.

Equity Bank will starting rolling out its thin SIM technology within 24 hours upon receiving approval from regulators, in what it says would disrupt banking and level the telecoms sector.

This could be "in less than 30 days from now", according to Eng John Waweru, the executive chairman of Equity's mobile virtual network subsidiary Finserve Africa Ltd.

"We are ready. Once we get the approval we will go live the next day, and this means giving our customers the SIM cards," managing director James Mwangi said Wednesday.

"We are in 'test land'. We are satisfied with the technology and all our staff, merchants and the bank have already migrated to the SIM cards. Users don't have to go through the task of changing SIM cards, they will simply choose tariffs that favour them."

The thin SIM technology allows a slim SIM card to be pasted on another and still fit in the same SIM slot. Users can switch between the two SIM cards through an application or a USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) string.

Mwangi said the new numbers have the prefix '0763'. He however declined to disclose how much it will cost the bank to roll out the thin SIM since customers will get them for free.

"We'll treat them just like ATM cards, so you have to be our customer to get one," he said.

Safaricom, the dominant telecom firm, protested to regulators to halt the roll out of Equity's thin SIM, arguing it would interfere with its subscribers' SIM card security.

Equity on the other hand says using its own SIM cards will guarantee security for its bank customers as data will be encrypted. Mwangi said the thin SIM will be secured by American Express.

Regulators were expected to rule on Safaricom's petition this week. Equity, Kenya's second-largest bank by market share, will use the thin SIM to offer banking, money transfer and mobile services.

"The SIM card has no issue; it's competition that is an issue here. I really get frustrated by this situation.... Making rules against your competition is unfair," Mwangi said, referring to Safaricom's protests.

Finserve was licensed in April alongside two others - Mobile Pay Ltd and Zioncell Kenya Ltd - as Mobile Virtual Network Operators.

The Communications Authority of Kenya said this followed adoption of a unified licensing framework in 2008, which collapsed all technology-specific licences into three categories: network facilities, application service and content service providers.

"We have given them licences that do not limit them in any way," CA director-general Francis Wangusi said when he officially handed over the licences.

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