Category Archives: Safaricom success

Fintech Moment in East Africa: AmEx FT Pesalink Bitcoin

Recent events in the fintech (financial technology) payment space in East Africa.


  • The Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) unveiled Pesalink, a digital payments platform that is expected to cut the cost of transactions and transform the way consumers interact with their banks. Pesalink is a fully owned subsidiary of KBA and it will enable customers to make payments between banks in real-time, around the clock, without having to go through intermediaries. It has been approved at Standard Chartered, Co-Operative, Barclays, Commercial Bank of Africa, I&M, Diamond Trust, Gulf African, Guardian, Victoria, Credit, Prime and Middle East banks…“RT @alykhansatchu: .@HabilOlaka says @KenyaBankers will be targeting payments that exceed M-Pesa’s maximum transaction of ($675)”
  • Cooperative Bank: Is a demonstration that the how banks ar moving in the technology space. Kenya’s 3rd bank has adapted to their customers embrace and they enable more customers to use alternative channels for transactions.  They had a valentines’ week promotion to highlight and encourage customers to use alternative channels such as MCo-op Cash (get a loan straight from ones’ phone  at 1.16%  per month and send money to other MCo-op users for free) or at a Co-op Kwa Jirani agent (deposit cash into someone’s Co-op Account for FREE at a Co-op Kwa Jirani agent) or Co-Op cards.
  • KCB will unveil it’s fintech future – a strategy based on a digital finance  in Q2 of 2017
  • Another is EcoBank which launched a new mobile app which integrates Masterpass QR, a mobile payment solution from MasterCard.  It enables customers to send and receive money instantly across 32 other African countries.


  • National Bank has launched cashlite payment solutions suite for county governments, Ministries, Government Agencies, and Departments. The bank has provided a variety of options for payments including mobile money, smart cards, and e-wallet and cash options, aligned with the continuing growth of mobile technology as well as consumers’ expectations for convenient mobile and online payments.
  • Strathmore University has supplied Busia county government with a revenue collection systems called CountyPro® with which the government hopes to grow revenue by 300%. It caters for all the unstructured county revenue sources including parking, market cess and trailer parking.
  • Mastercard is the technology partner for the Huduma Card in Kenya enabling payments for government services.  It is being issued by Commercial Bank of Africa, Diamond Trust, Equity, and Kenya Commercial banks. Kenyans will be able to pay for an array of enrolled Government services such as the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), National Social Security Fund (NSSF) amongst others. 


  • mVisa will soon be in 10 countries as Visa expands its QR payment service for safe and easy mobile payments in emerging markets. It is already live in India, Kenya (started with Family Bank) and Rwanda, and will soon be available to merchants and consumers in Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Vietnam.. (mVisa) allows consumers to use their mobile phones to make cashless purchases at merchant outlets, pay bills remotely and even send money to friends and family members by securely linking their Visa debit, credit or prepaid account to the mVisa application. Also any bank’s mVisa customer – regardless of where they bank – can transact on any mVisa merchant and merchants do not need to invest in POS infrastructure. Visa has partnered with Co-Operative, Family, KCB, and NIC banks.
  • Mastercard commitED to financially include 100,000 Kenyan micro merchants with Masterpass QR, a simple and secure digital payment solution. It will be introduced through various financial institutions. With it, consumers will be able to pay for in-store purchases by scanning the QR (Quick Response) code displayed at the checkout on their smartphones, or by entering a merchant identifier into their feature phones. Masterpass QR is currently being rolled out in Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania.
  • Safaricom has issued 16,000 Lipa na M-Pesa cards in the pilot phase of a project that will launch later in the year. The Lipa na M-Pesa card uses pin and chip technology…It is also equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) (which will) increases the speed at which customers make payments.
  • Verve: A dozen Kenya banks have partnered with Verve International, Africa’s leading low-cost payment network provider, in their push towards interconnectivity, cardless transact ability, and digital payments. Verve, best known as a card issuer has more than 32 million Verve cards and virtual/digital tokens issued across Africa and Verve is used in 19 African countries.
  • Pesapal adds American Express ​Pesapal integrated American Express into its payment platform on February 27, and  AmEx card holders can now use their cards to​ ​transact on any online payment portal that uses Pesapal. This is especially useful for hotels and other companies in the East African tourism space.  Pesapal which is in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi and plans to expand to Nigeria in 2018 also offers an online booking engine for Hotels called ReservePort that’s used by Serena and Heritage brands.


  • Facebook:  Facebook added international money transfers to its chat app. The service comes via London-based startup TransferWise in the form of a Facebook Messenger chatbot and enables transfers to and from the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and Europe.
  • Bitpesa:  The company introduced an Africa to China corridor enabling users to send payments from Africa, directly to a Chinese bank account using bitcoin.
  • European choice: How much does it cost to send money from Germany to Kenya?@WehliyeMohamed posted that the global average cost for sending $200 in Q3 2016 was 7.42%, and that It cost him 6.7% to send money to Kenya. Then @MkenyaU answered that it costs 1.5% when he sends €200 from Germany and this reduces to 0.6% when he sends €500. He cautioned that some companies charge zero fees but their exchange rates are horrible as he shared a comparison of a dozen services available to send money from Germany to Kenya.



  • Safaricom Mpesa: 10-year-old M-Pesa had 6 billion transactions in 2016 and is now in 10 countries – Albania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Romania, and Tanzania. A new feature in M-Pesa will enable users to see the cost of transactions. In the initial phase, customers will be notified of the costs after, and in the second phase customers will receive a pop up message informing them of any charges prior to the transactions, while the third phase will see the service being made available to value-added M-PESA financial products including M-Shwari, KCB M-PESA, Okoa Stima and M-Tiba. The second and third phases of the update will be rolled out in coming months.
  • There have been some calls and reports recommending that M-Pesa be split from Safaricom. This could have happened years ago, but it is more difficult now that M-Pesa is an entrenched and central part of Safaricom today.
  • Tala raised over $30 million in Series B financing, led by IVP and joined by Ribbit Capital.   Tala uses smartphone data to build financial identity ..  mobile app for Android aggregates more than 10,000 different data points on a customer’s device, including financial transactions, savings, network diversity, and geographic patterns, and builds a customized credit score, or financial identity. Tala operates in East Africa and Southeast Asia with its main top markets being Kenya and the Philippines. Tala has delivered more than one million loans totaling over $50 million, and more than one million individuals have accessed the product in East Africa alone. See how Tala compares to other (fintech) / phone-lending apps in Kenya.  Forbes termed this the largest Series B raised by a woman founder in recent memory.
  •  Zeep is a smart and simple mobile platform that helps young people (teens) nurture good  financial habits. They ‘learn by doing’ within the framework of a secure financial environment with guidance from their parents.

Companies to watch

Irish Tech News released a list of 38 Kenya fintech companies to watch in 2017; these include Abacus, BitPesa, Branch, Cellulant, Chura, FarmDrive, Kopo Kopo, M-Changa, Pesapal, Tala and Umati.


The FT Africa Payments Innovation Summit will take place on 29 March will bring together 250 business leaders from various mobile and financial interest groups and explore challenges and opportunities inherent in these developments: from providing greater financial access to un-banked people across the continent to providing new services and opportunities for an emerging middle class.



Capping Kenya Bank Interest Rates – Part II

Today Kenya bank CEO’s met with the Central bank governor. They again stated their opposition to the interest rate capping act from parliament in an innovative and free market country, and urged the urged the president to refer the bill back to parliament for more consultations. They noted that between 35%  to 44%  of new loans would be locked out due to their risk classification.

They also announced a raft of measures to assuage customer dissatisfaction with the banking sector including:

  • A commitment to reduce interest rates in line with the KBRR (The Kenya Banks’ Reference Rate which was reduced from 9.87% to 8.9%) on  July 25, 2016
  • Cancellation of account closing charges.
  • A commitment to set aside Kshs 30 billion to finance small & medium enterprises, of which Kshs 10 billion would go to women and youth-owned micro enterprises – at not more than 14.5%. The allocation of each bank will be tracked and reported on a quarterly basis from November.
  • A commitment to classify customers at credit reference bureaus as low, medium and high risk and align interest rates to match such borrowers.
  • Re-launching the cost of credit web site to include bank loan data enabling loan applicants to easily compare bank products
  • Promoting alternative dispute resolution.

These are all things banks should have been doing, but were not.  The statement also noted that the banks pay Kshs 69 billion per year in taxes (corporation, excise, PAYE) and that the new bill would reduce income to the government by at least Kshs 17 billion. But this is at a time when Safaricom alone paid Kshs 63 billion to the government as taxes and licence fees.

$1 = Ksh 101

The trouble with Celtel

are free calls enough?

[I am not a customer, but I have probably bought and discarded three of their SIM cards to coincide with some ongoing promotions. Too many people I call are on Safaricom, and until number portability comes along, (carrying my number to another networks) I am stuck with Safaricom]

Beside number portability, there are other things they need to sort out; Celtel has been losing customers (23% down from a year ago), executive staff (compared to the ‘stable’ team at Safaricom and direction. The change of brand from Kencel to celtel to Zain only benefits paint and marketing companies (but there’s already a ‘Z’ brand in Tanzania and a couple of other African countries)

My biggest peeve with them is there are too many products; these are never promoted long enough to mature or register with subscribers and potential customers.

This week
– For internet/data users – they have Uhurunet – unlimited internet service, whose equipment is a USB modem costing 6,000 shillings [$95] and 3,000 [$48] per month for unlimited internet which is not bad [and this compares well against Safaricom]

– For callers: Earlier this week they launched a six-month tariff with free airtime for people who purchase cheap phones (targeted at rural subscribers). And now from the skunkworks group we learn that they have another new tariff with Free calls from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day (top up with 100 shillings to take advantage) – will this be the one that gives them an edge over Safaricom? That’s the problem with Celtel – great products, big marketing budget, but jumbled messages that confuse subscribers. In the last year they have advertised their lowest rate at 6 shillings (Mambo 6), 4 shillings (to 3 preferred numbers) and now 3/= ($0.05)per minute. That is three times cheaper than Safaricom, but who has the masses and who has the right message?

Other tales

Opportunity: Nominate a worthy Kenyan to the Generation Kenya program

– From Uganda and GTV comes pre-paid premium TV – subscribers can pay for their GTV pay TV packages using scratch cards

Experian Kenya: joining the Kenyan credit reference pool is Experian in partnership with Quest Holdings.

Day 19 of the Safaricom IPO has 4,121 deals, worth 342 million ($5.42 million) Closing 7.20 High 7.40 Low 7.00 Last 7.20 and volume of 47.5 million shares. It’s well supported and Buyers must be sniffing out a conclusion to the de-leveraging process. Commentary and data from – NSE data vendor [with Free real time prices between 0930 -1500]

Mostly Safaricom II

Safaricom, the largest, (acknowledged) most profitable company in Kenya has returned a profit of Kshs 17 billion ($250 million) for the year ended in March 2007 – 40% better than the year before. What are the seven deadly sins again? I just want a decenet election year IPO.

Safaricom Success

Mr. Michael Joseph, the Safaricom CEO, gave a talk over the weekend on leadership and the successful transformation of the company from a moribund department of a dying parastatal (Telkom Kenya) to arguably Kenya’s most successful company. The Q&A session also brought out more candid answers particularly on challenges he and the company faced as well as the performance of its competitors. And since Safaricom is not (yet) a public company, this is perhaps the closest thing to an AGM of shareholders for the company until 2009.

Safaricom CEO, Michael Joseph

The Beginning
The Company started in 2000. Vodafone (40%) put in $20 million while Telkom (Government of Kenya) who were supposed to chip in with $30 million, didn’t put down any cash, giving only their dilapidated network infrastructure and 17,000 existing, and angry, customers. The company had 5 employees led by the CEO who had done a similar start-up in Hungary. However three days after the company launched its network collapsed, damaging its reputation for network quality.

Safaricom’s revenue is comparable to East African Breweries and Kenya Airways. It is several times larger than its competitor, has 900 employees and 4.6 million subscribers (the company also envisions Kenya as having 16 million potential subscribers).It has invested 55 billion shillings, all internally generated, constructing its network, which now covers about 20% of the geography of the country.

Success factors
Safaricom made several key decisions early on, but was helped by the collapse of Telkom landlines and, in hindsight, some blunders by Kencell (now Celtel) which launched around the same time and which initially had a larger subscriber base in the early years. These include:

Focus on prepaid customers The company felt that in a country without a strong credit background industry, consumers would only spend what they had. Also the CEO felt that they would need these mass-market subscribers to support corporate customers who were more lucrative. Today they have 90% of the corporate market, which Kencell set out to target initially.
Billing per second for calls while Kencell billed per minute. Safaricom sacrificed about 20% to 40% revenue per call but again, it won more customers who preferred to only pay exactly for airtime they used. There was much debate about which method was superior, but ultimately Safaricom won out
Having great customer service which was free and available 24 hours a day. While customer service is only paid lip service in Kenya he felt this would be important as consumers ventured into the new mobile phone industry. Meanwhile, Kencell’s customer service was available only during working hours and was not free. The CEO knows it is difficult to get through to customer service but that’s because the company gets an average of 25,000 calls a day sometimes double. Yet 95% of these calls are simple, how-to questions (e.g. send SMS, change tariff) everyday questions, answers to which are found in phone brochures.

Even though the company is 40% UK owned, all their products and advertisements cultivate a Kenyan image utilizing the beauty of the Kenyan landscape and Swahili words (sambaza, bamba etc.) to reinforce how Kenyan the company is.

CEO was very dismissive of Celtel (a pan- African company) advertisements whose adverts have nothing Kenyan about them and faults their marketing strategy for assuming all Africans are homogeneous. Earlier, Kencell also introduced (French) Sagem phones to Kenya, which no one had heard of while Safaricom used Motorola and Siemens as their basic phone models.

Safaricom’s average revenue per user (ARPU) is 2 X Celtel’s and has not dropped in three years even as subscribers have more than doubled, leading the CEO to conclude that most Celtel customers are primarily Safaricom customers. Even though the company has network difficulty in some places e.g. industrial area, Safaricom has never shaken the impression, wrong he feels, that Celtel has a better network or clearer calls. He also says Celtel has a very high cost structure since they have ½ the revenue but only 1/10 of operating profit before finance charges.
– The CEO is not worried about competition from CDMA wireless as long as it is in the hands of Telkom Kenya which is still a bloated giant (17,000 employees servicing 240,000 customers)
– He is also not worried about 3rd or other mobile operators, or new service providers, but accepts that they will change the industry

The first time the company took on a loan, conditions were very stringent and the loan could have been recalled e.g. if cash flow dipped. But the second time they went borrowing (12 billion for network expansion) the company was so established, they were able to dictate terms to the banks. They borrowed at 1% above the T-bill rate while also retiring old debt. He also said Kencell (Celtel) had much higher finance charges since they had borrowed and were still paying back an expensive foreign currency loan from their then parent company (Vivendi.)

Peculiar Kenyan call habits: CEO denies he ever made this infamous statement attributed to him. However he admiited he doesn’t understand why phone traffic between 8:00 p.m. & 8:40 p.m. on week nights is four times higher than normal, even though cheaper call rates are also available on weekends and at other times during the day.
Gift of gab: The most profitable call sites in Kenya are Garissa and Mandera. Safaricom has also set up call sites to meet high demand at remote refugee outposts such as Kakuma and Dadaab. Kenyans are also high users of text messages (next to Philippines) while Nairobi has the highest density of mobile calls in the day time (higher than New York) partly because landlines are poor.
Social responsibility: The company spends 200 million shillings a year on corporate social responsibility projects through its foundation and its biggest sponsorship will be the 2007 Mombasa cross country ($250,000).
Recruitment: Safaricom only employs graduates, yet somehow 70% of them fail a pre-employment test the company administers. They are now recruiting overseas and the average age of employees is 24 (seems young).
Premium rate services: CEO hates these companies who run promotions that charge 20 and 50 shillings above normal Safaricom rates. He has to let some of them use his network, by law, but makes it as expensive as possible for them to do so
Bad stats: When the company launched, it found that most of the government statistics on income, expenditure, and population were, and still are, wrong as shown by the number of subscribers the company has.
Honesty and integrity are the best virtues he has learnt to have on his job. This has enabled him to perform his job and shielded him from unreasonable requests/offers from politicians and business people and if there had even been a whiff of anything less, he would have been asked to compromise himself or the company.
Next CEO: He’s reluctant to retire even though he knows its inevitable. His last contract was renewed, after a long battle between forces from Central and Western Kenya who each wanted their own candidate, but were unable to agree, leaving him as the comprise candidate. He will prepare for retirement by stepping back as the face and spokesman of Safaricom slowly and we will soon see other senior managers at the company take on more public role in the future.

– CEO wants the industry measure and focus to change from ARPU to ARPU margins
– Call costs will come down and there will be more price completion (perhaps even 5/= per call) as new competitors and technology become factors down. He expects Safaricom profits to drop from next year and may have to start cutting costs to stay competitive.
– Safaricom will have a new big product by year-end, which will change our lives. The company will also add a new tariff this year

Safaricom IPO
IPO was planned to happen this year, but the Cabinet rejected the proposal until Telkom is first privatised. The reason is that Safaricom is Telkom’s only valuable asset, and they did not wan to diminish Telkom’s IPO value and prospects. So the 25% sale will be in2008 and will be bigger than Kengen’s, by far, according to the CEO.