Compiled by Robin Singleton
M-Pesa was first launched by the Kenyan mobile network operator Safaricom, where Vodafone is technically a minority shareholder (40%), in March 2007. M-Pesa quickly captured a significant market share for cash transfers, and grew to 17 million subscribers by December 2011 in Kenya alone. The growth of the service forced formal banking institutions to take note of the new venture. In December 2008, a group of banks reportedly lobbied the Kenyan finance minister to audit M-Pesa, in an effort to at least slow the growth of the service. This ploy failed, as the audit found that the service was robust. At this time The Banking Act did not provide basis to regulate products offered by non-banks, of which M-Pesa was one such very successful product. As at November 2014, M-Pesa transactions for the 11 months of 2014 were valued at KES. 2.1 trillion, a 28% increase from 2013, and almost half the value of the country’s GDP.
On November 19, 2014 Safaricom launched a companion android app Safaricom M-Ledger for its M-Pesa users. The application, currently only available on Android, gives M-Pesa users a historical view of all their transactions.
M-Pesa was launched in Tanzania by Vodacom in 2008 but its initial ability to attract customers fell short of expectations. In 2010, the International Finance Corporation released a report which explored many of these issues in greater depth and analyzed the strategic changes that Vodacom has implemented to improve their market position. As of May 2013, M-Pesa in Tanzania has five million subscribers.
In September 2010 Vodacom and Nedbank announced the launch of the service in South Africa, where there were estimated to be more than 13 million “economically active” people without a bank account. M-Pesa has been slow to gain a toehold in the South African market compared to Vodacom’s projections that it would sign up 10 million users in the following three years. By May 2011, it had registered approximately 100,000 customers. The gap between expectations for M-Pesa’s performance and its actual performance can be partly attributed to differences between the Kenyan and South African markets, including the banking regulations at the time of M-Pesa’s launch in each country. According to MoneyWeb, a South African investment website, “A tough regulatory environment with regards to customer registration and the acquisition of outlets also compounded the company’s troubles, as the local regulations are more stringent in comparison to our African counterparts. Lack of education and product understanding also hindered efforts in the initial roll out of the product.”
In June 2011, Vodacom and Nedbank launched a campaign to re-position M-Pesa, targeting the product to potential customers who have a higher Living Standard Measures (LSM) than were first targeted.