Category Archives: Safaricom

Rewiring Education

This week, the M-Pesa Foundation Academy and Nairobi International School hosted author John Couch, who was first Vice President of Apple Inc., for a talk session on “rewiring education.” The chief guest was Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Joe Mucheru. 

Rewiring Education speakers.

Excerpts from the rewiring education Q&A: 

  • Kids come into employment fully trained in things that are no longer relevant. They then have to unlearn that, and we are working with universities to modernize the curriculum.
  • Schools have to hire teachers who are registered with the Teachers Service Commission. But those who are there only have B.Ed (Bachelor of Education degrees), and lack skills to stand in front of students who are far ahead of them in technical knowledge.
  • The Kenya government has developed a brilliant curriculum, that will start next year, but teachers have not been trained to deliver this. International schools take three years to retrain a teacher.
  • The median age in Kenya is 19 years, and half the civil service is made up of teachers.
  • The most important skill to have in life is (to embrace) continuous learning.
  • Schools can currently evaluate student memorization, but not their creativity and innovation abilities.
  • “When I was studying at Berkeley, California in the 1970’s, people thought the social revolution was taking place in the streets, but I knew it was taking place inside computers.”
  • Safaricom set out to provide connectivity to all schools in Kenya and the government was to provide the devices.
  • “The way we are teaching kids is a disservice and I am in the process of suing the UK government for wasting thirteen years of my life!”
  • The US also treats teachers as a union problem, not a professional occupation. Teachers are underpaid and under-trained.

Digital App Loans: Understanding Borrower Behavior

An Interesting conversation was started by a tweet by Francis Waithaka on the true borrowing of costs of app loans that hundreds of Kenyans take every day by making a few clicks on their phones.

It elicited a lot of comments on the cost of finance offers to Kenyans, since an interest capping law passed in 2016 that restrict banks to lend at a maximum of 14%, the lack of regulation of app loans who may be taking advance of Kenyans by charging usurious rates etc. It also led to a mention of a research report from Micro Save about the digital credit landscape in Kenya that was shared by one of the authors.

The Microsave Report (PDF) titled “Where Credit Is Due: Customer Experience of Digital Credit In Kenya”  had lots of insights. It was drawn from feedback from 1,009 farmers located in 50 villages, equally split between Central Kenya and Western Kenya, and also with an equal number of men and women in the study.

At the end of it, the report makes some recommendations to the Communications Authority of Kenya and the Central Bank of Kenya – such as to control the type of messaging sent by text to consumers, and to require app loan companies to share information and to list all defaulters, respectively.

Habits of Borrowers 

  • There is a preference for Chama’ s, SACCO’s and M-Shwari as a source of funding. App loan amounts are too small for significant investments.
  • Majority of the customers took up loans to smooth consumption, emergencies or to boost business.
  • They don’t understand terms and conditions of app loans and they don’t understand credit reference.
  • There are three types of borrowers: repayers (who pay loans on time), defaulters  (who don’t understand the consequences of being listed), and jugglers who take both traditional and app loans – but if they are financially stretched, they are more likely to repay the traditional loans.
  • Customers have learned to game the system through timely repayment of loans and juggling multiple borrowers.
  • There is no extra “PIN” required to request and withdraw an app loan and some family members have done this in secret leading the phone owner to default on a loan.
  • Digital credit usage doubled in Kenya between 2015 and 2016, with awareness and usage of digital credit by far lower in rural Kenya.
  • Digital credit, which offers privacy, is replacing shop credit and family/ friends as financiers.
  • The simplicity of the loan application procedures matters;  too much information requested or if there are too many variables that make it confusing, makes potential borrowers drop off.

Phone Types 

Download a loan app or use USSd

  • App usage is rather low – and this probably related to lower usage of smartphones as their batteries rarely last a full day as compared to cheaper feature phones that retain battery charge for several days of use.
  • Phones are mainly used for money transfer,  deposits, and withdrawals. There is little usage to get information or to browse the internet
  • 64% of respondents in the survey had a basic phone (57% in 2015). Smartphones were 14%, growing slightly and off-setting feature phones which declined slightly to 26%.
  • Loss of a phone may result in a  borrower defaulting on repayment.

Credit Reference Bureaus

  • Formal lenders require clearance from a credit reference bureau (CRB) which costs $22 (i.e Kshs 2,200) and that may exclude borrowers from formal finance. App loans don’t require this, e except that borrowers have not been black-listed.
  • One concern is there is little understanding of credit reference bureaus, and of channels for redress of any disputes.
  • Not all fintech’s report loans to credit reference bureaus.

App loan costs

  • High loan/interest charges are not a concern as they are comparable to other informal money lenders

At the time of the survey, M-Shwari issued 62 million loans (worth Kshs 1.3 trillion), while Equitel and KCB about 4 million each. In comments to accompany the release of their 2017 bank results last month, KCB had 13 million mobile customers, Equity Bank has 12.1 million, while a  CBA statement noted that the bank also serves 33 million mobile savings & loans customers, in East Africa, in partnership with mobile money operators.

PayPal in Kenya: Part II M-Pesa Links Up

PayPal’s reach in Kenya has now been extended to M-Pesa wallets, allowing users of the service to get payments directly to their mobile phones, thanks to a partnership between Safaricom, PayPal and TransferTo.

Under the new service, qualified M-Pesa customers can link their PayPal accounts to M-Pesa wallets, using an “M-PESA PayPal portal”  that will enable them to buy goods and services using M-Pesa to top up their PayPal accounts and this is expected to benefit international ecommerce and remittances. They can also withdraw cash at 148,000 M-Pesa agents around Kenya. M-Pesa has 27.8 million active customers while Nasdaq-listed PayPal has 227 million and is available in 200 markets, allowing merchants to receive funds in more than 100 currencies and withdraw funds in 56 currencies. TransferTo is a Singapore-based cross-border mobile payments enabler. 

PayPal has officially been in Kenya for almost five years exclusively with Equity Bank, dating back to 2013 when Equity and FNB were the only authorized Paypal partners in Africa. Equity is still the only bank in Kenya that PayPal users can withdraw with and during 2017, Equity reduced the PayPal withdrawal time from 8 days to 3 days. Last week Equity reviewed the cost of getting paid using PayPal to as little as 1% for withdrawal amounts that are over $5,000 (~Kshs 500,000), versus 1.5% for payments below $500 (~Kshs 50,000).

At the Equity Bank 2017 results announcement last month, CEO James Mwangi confirmed that usage of PayPal by Equity Bank customers had overtaken traditional remittance channels of Western Union and MoneyGram. PayPal was used for payments worth Kshs 6.2 billion in 2017 by Equity customers, up from Kshs 3.6 billion the year before, and accounted for 21% of the Kshs 30.2 billion worth of payments with another new service provider, Wave accounting for 52% of the value of transfers.

Barclays Timiza launched

On Friday, Barclays unveiled Timiza, its virtual banking strategy to extend its growth and services to the mobile space.

It comes after two other banks CBA (through M-Shwari) and KCB have also extended virtual services over Safaricom and M-Pesa to reach millions more digital customers and borrowers.

Timiza is immediately available to all M-Pesa customers (they are 27.8 million) who are either Barclays customers and non-customers. Timiza has a simple registration by dialing *848# or downloading the app from the google store and entering a national ID and phone number and within minutes of creating a new password, one can see their credit limit and start borrowing. The minimum loan amount is Kshs 50, and maximum Kshs 1 million, though it’s really up to 150,000 (~$1,500) depending on one’s credit rating and funds are immediately sent to one’s Timiza wallet (not M-pesa). For demonstration, a loan of Kshs 1,000 (~$10) for 30 days attracts a fee of 1.17% plus a facility fee of 5%, for a repayment of Kshs 1061.67

Besides being an easy and low-interest loan avenue, Timiza also offers a simple current account, savings account, fixed deposit account (term deposits of 1, 3, 6, 12 months – minimum Kshs 1,000. no top-up), group savings accounts, and channels for utility payments. One can also purchase insurance (a whole life cover policy) in the app.

A few months ago when M-Shwari was marking five years since its launch, CBA announced they would have variable pricing for good-repayers and a rebate on fees for people who paid loans within 10 days. These have not been done, but there are hints of such revisions in Timiza

Other Timiza Notes

The Timiza T&C‘s mostly relate to the use of personal information and clauses on resolving disputed. But they also have some interesting things:

  • There are no fees for transfers between Timiza and M-pesa
  • Barclays may suspend a Timiza account and credit if they discover it is being used for fraud or illegal activities, and they may also suspend them if they become aware that a customer is defaulting on other loans.
  • Unique from M-Shwari in that the loans can be rolled-over, and there will be a “roll-over” fee levied. However, the staff at Barclays branches have no authority to alter Timiza agreements. 
  • Timiza users will be eligible  for store finance at Barclays-selected merchants
  • One can select the period for repayment of a loan when applying for a loan  – maximum of 30 days

Barclays has 88 branches which are located in 38 of Kenya’s 47 counties and says they are responding to their customers preference for more mobile and internet banking channels. Barclays targets to get 5 million new customers in the next five years.

$1=Kshs 101

Regulatory hammer for Kenya telco reverses gains

Reading a version of a report (August 2017) on the telecommunication competition market study in Kenya by  Analysys Mason (AM) of London for the Communications Authority of Kenya presents some startling observations and unwieldy regulatory recommendations.

They regulatory target is the telco – Safaricom, which is the market leader in Kenya’s telecommunications and mobile money space. The reports documents areas where Safaricom is dominant as well as other telco spaces and areas where other companies like Telkom Kenya, Airtel, Wananchi, Equitel (from Equity Bank) and Multichoice (who were beyond the scope of the study) also dominate.

The AM report looks at the current state of the telecommunications sectors, but it ignores the reality of how it got to be where it is – the history of telecommunications in Kenya, strategic-decision-making, investment & management decisions, price wars, new technologies like mobile money and fibre cables etc.

Other studies have been done on the telco sector in Kenya by different agencies. In 2012 Citi did a report on Bharti Airtel (after Bharti-Airtel bought out Zain Africa in 15 countries for $10.7 billion in 2010) and at the time; It noted:

Safaricom is by far the largest operator, with a 65% market share. Bharti is a distant second with a 15% share. Safaricom’s dominance has come down from a  peak of ~80% a couple of years back as the smaller operators have become more aggressive.. while they both launched in 2000, Kencell (now Bharti) focused on the quality of network and high ARPU customers, Safaricom focused on the mass market. Also innovations like per-second billing, which Bharti took some time to introduce and M-PESA also helped  (Safaricom) cement its dominant market position and Safaricom’s stable management in contrast to Zain’s frequent management (1. Kencell 2. Celtel 3. Zain 4. Bharti) changes also helped it compete more effectively.

Kenya has other dominant players such as EABL (alcohol), BAT (cigarettes), Kengen (energy production) and Brookside (milk), but the Communications Authority (CA) is the only agency that can declare if there is a dominant telco market player.    

In the past, the CA  has pushed some changes to level the telco field such as rolling out number-portability, the ending of mobile money agent exclusivity, and the upcoming rollout of mobile money interoperability.  

But some AM report proposals are regressive such as at least five days before launching a new tariff, loyalty scheme or promotion, Safaricom should provide a justification that the proposals can be replicated by a reasonably efficient operator – AM or that Safaricom may not offer loyalty bonuses or promotions for which the qualification criteria require different levels of expenditure or usage by different subscribers in the same category – AM
The range and messaging of different Safaricom promotions like Tunukiwa, Bonga, Flex and now Platinum, is sometimes confusing but they should not be restricted from competing and innovating. Already, another investor report by Citi has already expressed concern about the impact on telcos of some of the regulatory recommendations in the AM report including that they may have effects that will be unclear, they do not foster innovation, and they may result in high prices. 

The AM report notes that there is some concern among investors in that, as Safaricom has maintained a high share of the market for many years and that recently Essar/Yu exited Kenya (2014), Orange sold out (to Helios who re-branded as Telkom-Kenya) and Bharti indicated that they may  also consider leaving Kenya, and perhaps other countries in Africa.

While appeasing investors is good, they have to contend with Safaricom and its impact on a telco regulator with targets, and to the Kenya government country as a significant taxpayer (Safaricom’s 2017 annual report cites payment of Kshs 84.3 billion in taxes and fees to the government, in addition to 35% of Kshs 57 billion dividends that was paid to shareholders)

Finally, Safaricom is a vertically-integrated company, and dominant players come and go and they evolve over time as market forces, customers, and technologies changes. The AM report notes the introduction of Pesalink, which can be seen as a reaction by the banking sector to M-Pesa, and it also cites the use of Equitel – on average, a Safaricom M-Pesa subscriber makes 6 transactions per month, whereas an Airtel Money subscriber makes 0.6 and an Orange Money subscriber makes 0.1. However, the average Equitel subscriber makes 10 transactions per month – AM. 

No one knows what the telco sector will look like in the next decade, but the consumers, not regulatory muscle, should be the decider.