Safaricom’s latest ad on M-Pesa is nothing short of perfect. It captures the reality of life in Kenya. This country truly runs on M-Pesa. And I’m not saying M-Pesa to mean mobile money in general. I’m talking of M-Pesa the service from Safaricom. M-Pesa is deeply rooted in us. We need it more than it does us. Without M-Pesa we are nothing. And that’s has got me thinking.
If someone is sick and they need urgent medical attention, M-Pesa saves the day. If a kid needs fees, Lipa na M-Pesa. You’re out having lunch, M-Pesa. You’re in the streets and see something you badly need to buy but have no cash, M-Shwari loan to M-Pesa.
M-Pesa is now synonymous with “mobile money”. People even say “M-Pesa ya Airtel”. “Orange wako na M-Pesa yao?”
Kenya Runs on MPesa. That’s the problem.
— Dickson Otieno (@DicksonOtieno) October 24, 2015
But over-reliance on a product is not healthy. Especially when it is the whole country. And this has its consequences:
- Limited thinking: People don’t get to think of other means of doing stuff. People live believing that there has always been one way of doing it and they live doing it that way. Innovation is closed down. New products are dead before birth. Have you noticed how every “new” idea in Kenya has an ‘m’ somewhere and is somehow related or built around M-Pesa? Okay I might be wrong on that….
- Cost: M-Pesa is not affordable. You get charged for even the smallest of transactions. For example checking for your balance costs you! And if nothing is done, M-Pesa will continue getting more and more expensive.
- No Competition: Such over reliance kills competition.
- Growth: When there’s no competition and everything is fine, how does something grow? We remain the same.
But who’s to blame? Who has made M-Pesa so big? Who has made M-Pesa so expensive? Who has made M-Pesa so great?
- Is it government legislation? No and Yes. No, the government has nothing to do with M-Pesa’s success. Yes, the government should make it easier for more Telcos to open up business in Kenya. We should have more and more companies offering Telecommunication (and mobile money) services. The more the better.
- Is it Safaricom? They honestly cannot be blamed for being too good at what they do. They’re awesome!
- Is it us who don’t want to try other services like MobiKash etc? Well sort of. But not entirely. We must however seek ways of making sure we don’t over-rely on one product.
- Is it that other Mobile Money service providers are not working hard enough? Yes. These are the people who want to disrupt M-Pesa but they aren’t good enough! Airtel is trying hard but this article I wrote after being frustrated explains their main problem. Big up Equitel! I see you have WiFi hotspot areas…?
I believe Equitel is the only serious competitor M-Pesa will ever face in Kenya. The others are joking. For lack of a better word.
Kenyans are a dynamic people who can shift from one thing to the other very easily. Yet it seems no one has been able to shake M-Pesa. Not because no one can. Rather because no one (but Equity Bank and KCB) are doing it right.
People want cheaper means of sending money. People are ready. I’ve even seen serious pitches from young entrepreneurs who are suggesting Bitcoin solutions and such like stuff to dethrone M-Pesa. Airtel Kenya has put forward Airtel Money as the cheapest way to send money: free of charge. But this is not going anywhere. Why do Kenyans stick with M-Pesa then? Is it because of
- Ease of use?
I doubt. Very few people put the above factors into consideration when choosing a mobile money platform. A mama in the village uses M-Pesa because it is everywhere! Because she doesn’t need to walk a long distance to deposit or withdraw cash. Because there’s M-Shwari for loans. Because of Lipa na M-Pesa.
We use M-Pesa not because it is cheap, fast and secure rather because it is easy to find and easy to use. Because it is what we know! It is what we can quickly access.
Kenya runs on M-Pesa. This is the problem competitors should be looking to solve.