By Maria Macharia:
Nairobi — INSPIRED by the success of m-pesa in Kenya, Vodacom, the mobile network operator, said it was redesigning the popular money transfer service for the South African market.
The South African headquartered firm said m-pesa had the potential to transform how South Africans manage money hence the plans to ensure the uptake was as positive as in Kenya.
First launched in Kenya in 2007, m-pesa is now used by more than 18 million people across 13 countries to perform banking and money transfer services via mobile phone.
Vodacom introduced m-pesa to South Africa in 2010 and while the initial take up was strong with more than 1 million people signing up, it has not so far enjoyed the overwhelming uptake seen in markets like Kenya and Tanzania.
"When we first launched m-pesa in 2010 we had high hopes that it would have the same kind of transformational impact seen in Kenya. We wanted to change the way South Africans handle money for the better.
"Each country has its own unique needs and challenges, and it has been a learning process getting to understand exactly what will and what won't work in South Africa.
"We've taken the experience and knowledge gained from the past four years and have used this as the basis for a comprehensive redesign of m-pesa for the South African market," Vodacom Group CEO, Shameel Joosub, said.
In Kenya, over 70 percent of the adult population uses m-pesa.
In order to achieve the same level of participation in South Africa, the first thing that the team focused on is distribution, said Joosub.
Vodacom's revamped m-pesa service launches with more than 8 000 agents at both informal outlets and at major retail partners.
This is approximately ten times the number that m-pesa originally launched with in 2010, and the intention is to grow, particularly in the informal sector, to around 30 000 points of presence by the end of the year.
This will guarantee a lead in distribution by putting the nearest m-pesa agent within hundreds of meters of customers, and has the potential to generate additional employment. Vodacom has even gone as far as launching a mobile-based locator to direct customers to the nearest m-pesa outlet.
After tackling distribution, the second thing that the m-pesa team did was to address the issue of ease of registration.
In Kenya and Tanzania, any m-pesa agent can register a customer - all it takes is a mobile phone and an ID document.
For the original launch of m-pesa in South Africa, a potential customer had to present their ID in person at a limited number of outlets.
With the revised m-pesa, customers can self-register via mobile phone simply by entering their name and ID number.
If a customer would like to enhance the functionality and transaction limits of their m-pesa account, then all they need to do is take their ID and register in person at one of the roughly 1 000 FICA sites set up countrywide.
These include Vodacom shops, spaza shops and specialized FICA hubs at key points like cash 'n carry outlets.
The revised m-pesa service introduces a number of entirely new elements including a chip and pin protected Visa card, and a voucher system to upload cash.
The new m-pesa Visa card gives access to approximately 27 000 ATMs and over 240 000 merchant outlets in South Africa, dramatically increasing the versatility of the service.
Another key innovation is the introduction of a voucher system which allows people to convert cash to m-pesa at all Vodacom shops, selected spaza shops, and at selected retailers.