Africa’s M-Pesa’s landmark deal with Western Union and their global ambitions

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Africa’s poster child for financial inclusion, Safaricom’s M-Pesa, signed a landmark deal with Western Union earlier this week. The deal would give M-Pesa access to Western Union’s mighty distribution network and banks across 200 countries.

M-Pesa’s journey started in 2007 when Safaricom launched the product for its customers in Kenya. It has seen tremendous growth in some African countries, and not-so-impressive uptake from other parts of the continent. The customer base in Kenya alone is about 17 Million, and Tanzania and South Africa are markets where they have their foot print.

M-Pesa’s expansion beyond Kenya and Tanzania have not been without challenges. Their slow growth in South Africa especially was a disappointment, primarily because of the regulatory landscape, payment infrastructure inter-operability issues and customer awareness were seen as key issues.

That didn’t stop M-Pesa from going Global though. They have a presence in India, through a partnership deal with ICICI bank and also in some parts of Europe. However, they haven’t been able to replicate their African story elsewhere.

mpesa-around-the-world

Since the beginning of this year, M-Pesa seem to have revisited their strategy in going global. They have focused on making the most of their existing account holders in Kenya and Tanzania, and providing them financial services that go beyond borders.

“Essentially, how we will do it is look at mapping of customers we have today where we see customers transacting or making calls,”

– Paul Kavavu, Head of M-Pesa New Business Ventures

In order to do that, M-Pesa had to meet global regulatory standards around Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing. They seem to have done that well now, and are on a roll in signing partnerships with several global financial services organisations.

They had signed up partnerships with Moneygram and WorldRemit four years ago, but that deal largely focused on inward transactions to Africa. The recent deal with Western Union allows Kenyans to send money abroad from their mobile phone.

That opens up major opportunities for M-Pesa to expand globally through its partner channels. Safaricom charge a commission of Sh100 for remitting up to Sh5,000 to a Western Union agent and Sh500 for more than Sh35,000. While this is on the lower end of the pricing spectrum, it should give them the opportunity to grow.

M-Pesa signed a deal with Paypal earlier this year to exploit the market in India, where they also had tie ups with Vodafone. With global players looking at the Africa opportunity, M-Pesa should be able to script their growth story beyond African shores. In the last 6 months, M-Pesa revenues jumped 18.2% to Sh35.52 billion from Sh26.20 billion a year earlier.

Financial-Inclusion

Its good to see African super stars going global, and their success beyond borders will be a case study in itself. However, I believe, the rest of Africa is more of an opportunity for M-Pesa. Their understanding of the continent, clubbed with recent improvements against regulatory standards, should give them a good chance to look at rest of Africa. There are many leap frog moments to be had in Africa, and M-Pesa is perhaps best positioned to make them happen.

 

Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a VC investor focusing on Inclusion, a writer and a podcast host.

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