New era for M-PESA

Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom last week announced a deal that will enable the 13.5 million customers using its M-PESA mobile money transfer service to receive payments from any of the 80,000 Western Union agent locations across the world.

Safaricom said in a statement that this is the largest deal of its kind in the world, and that no other Kenyan operator can receive money from as many locations.

Remittances from Kenyans living abroad last year hit a record amount. Business Daily reports that the Kenyan diaspora remitted Ksh.51 billion ($642 million) in 2010, compared to Ksh.48 billion ($609 million) in 2009.

“Through this partnership, our customers and their friends and families will benefit from affordable, faster and more convenient international remittances, and the money is available straightaway for any M-PESA transaction or can be withdrawn as cash at any of our 24,000 Safaricom agents,” said Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.

The Western Union Company is one of the world’s largest global payment service providers. It owns the Vigo, Orlandi Valuta, Pago Facil and Western Union Business Solutions brands.

In an exclusive interview with How we made it in Africa last year, Susie Lonie, who was recruited to develop and manage the M-PESA project on the ground in Kenya from pilot to commercial operation, said: “From very early in the project I felt certain that we were onto something pretty big with M-PESA. However, I would never have predicted anything like the growth we experienced. I remember a month after the Kenyan launch the Safaricom CEO called us to his office and said he wanted us to triple our year one target. We thought he was joking but in fact we achieved this new target in the first eight months.”

Lonie expects to see an increasing level of integration between products such as M-PESA and the more traditional financial services infrastructure. “Already in Kenya, M-PESA customers can have a savings account held in a bank but only access it via M-PESA, and never set foot in a banking hall. In Tanzania, customers have been able to top up their prepaid electricity through M-PESA without needing to travel to a licensed vendor of electricity vouchers for nearly two years. This kind of integration, where M-PESA is an access channel to many kinds of payment and banking services, will continue to grow. One day in the not too distant future products like M-PESA will be accepted by the banking community as just as obvious an extension of their portfolio as internet payments have become,” she said.