A battle to open up Kenya’s M-Pesa agents network in Kenya has come to an end.
Mobile network Safaricom, which runs M-Pesa, has unexpectedly agreed to open up its agency network across the country to its rivals.
This means that Safaricom agents, who currently stand at 85,000 across the East African country, have the green light to sell both M-Pesa services and other mobile money transfer services from rivals such as Airtel.
M-Pesa is Kenya’s most used mobile money system with over 18 million mobile money users. But the total Kenyan mobile money market size has opportunities for Safaricom agents to sell to over 24 million users of the transfer systems.
“We made a strategic decision in February 2014 to remove all exclusivity provisions in our M-Pesa agent contracts,” said Safaricom’s corporate affairs director, Nzioka Waita, in a statement.
“All our 85,000 M-Pesa agents are, therefore, free to engage with whoever they please and this will include other mobile money service providers,” Waita added.
The decision; though, has come before a ruling on a petition filed by Airtel Kenya before the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK).
Airtel has asked the authority to compel Safaricom to open up its agent network.
On this, Waita was quick to add, “This was a commercial decision and not one that was forced upon us by any regulatory authority. We are confident that this decision will not negatively impact our business in any way that we cannot comfortably mitigate.”
Speaking to ITWeb Africa on these developments, Noah Mutai, an IT research lecturer and telecommunications analyst at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), said that Safaricom’s move to open its agency network needs to be questioned.
“Safaricom has for a long time been fighting against opening up its agent network, saying it had invested billions in ensuring its spread across the country. Its recent softened stance on the same and consequently agreeing to open up the network begs the question, why now?” Mutai told ITWeb Africa.
“I believe that they have had enough time to analyse the odds facing them, especially now that a petition was before the CAK, and at the end of the day, it was better for the decision to come from them and not forced on them by regulators,” Mutai added.
Mutai; however, was quick to add that having access to Safaricom’s agency network does not mean overnight success for the rival mobile money services run by Airtel, Orange and yuMobile.
“Kenya is a very interesting market, and unless the rivals prove to the market that their services have more advantages over M-Pesa, and at the same time carry out vigorous marketing campaigns, then there is a possibility of a status quo, where M-Pesa will continue enjoying popularity among the consumers especially in rural areas. At the end of the day, consumers remain the beneficiaries of these new developments” Mutai said in conclusion.
Despite Kenya pioneering mobile money services, the country is lagging behind in Africa regarding opening up its agency networks.
Zimbabwe this year has forced its mobile networks to allow all agents to sell any services such as EcoCash and Telecash.