Vodafone, Safaricom and the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) are adding to the M-Pesa mobile money service with the launch of an interest-bearing savings account and the offer of small loans.
M-Pesa’s main focus since its launch has been on its mobile money transfer between individual users. The new service is called M-Shwari.
The highly successful M-Pesa has had an impact on the wider economy of Kenya and become a much-imitated approach for other such services around the world, although with mixed results.
Historically, mobile money services in the developing world have concentrated on activities such as money transfer rather than offering savings and loans to their subscribers, even though such users typically do have not access to conventional banking services.
Vodafone, which holds a 40-percent stake in Kenya’s Safaricom, owns the M-Pesa concept. CBA will provide both the saving accounts and the loan service for M-Shwari.
Users can sign up to the new service direct through the menu on their mobile phones. There are no forms to fill in and users do not need to visit a bank branch.
The partners do not mention what interest rates are available on the loans. Or what interest subscribers will receive in return for placing their savings with the partners.
To establish user’s eligibility for a loan, CBA studies the customer’s individual M-Pesa transactions and savings history. This mean a user will need to be an existing M-Pesa customer but, given the service’s high penetration in Kenya, this should not be a barrier to take-up.
In a statement, Michael Joseph, director for M-Pesa within Vodafone, described M-Shwari as “a transformational service; saving is no longer the privilege or an elite”.
Depending on take-up in Kenya, Vodafone might launch M-Shwari in other markets where it has a presence. M-Pesa was launched in other markets after its initial success. Among the markets where it launched, M-Pesa proved popular in some locations such as Tanzania but less so in others such as South Africa.
At the recent GSMA NFC & Mobile Money Summit in Milan, Joseph accused other mobile operators of failing to back mobile money services with the necessary time and resources to make a success of them.