Drama as M-pesa win­ner ri­fles through Pick n Pay

Lesotho Times - - Business -

VO­DA­COM Le­sotho has at­tracted over 600 000 sub­scribers to its MPesa ser­vice — an in­no­va­tion the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant launched in July 2013 through which sub­scribers can send and re­ceive money, buy air­time and pay util­ity bills.

Palesa Mphun­yet­sane is the Ex­ec­u­tive Head of M-pesa and in this wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, tells Le­sotho Times (LT) re­porter, Retha­bile Pitso, how the fa­cil­ity has changed the lives of Ba­sotho for the bet­ter.

LT: What, in a nut­shell, is MPesa?

Mphun­yet­sane: M-pesa is a ser­vice that al­lows reg­is­tered cus­tomers to per­form fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions safely, eas­ily, af­ford­ably and con­ve­niently through a mo­bile de­vice.

M-pesa was first in­tro­duced by Kenya’s lead­ing mo­bile money net­work op­er­a­tor, Sa­fari­com, which is part of the Voda­fone Group.

The word M-pesa was de­rived from Swahili, where ‘ m’ refers to ‘mo­bile’ and ‘ pesa’ means ‘ money’. M-pesa has been adopted and is cur­rently utilised in all Voda­fone and Vo­da­com’s op­er­a­tions across the globe.

As part of the global brand, Vo­da­com Le­sotho is no ex­cep­tion and hence has also adopted the name M-pesa.

Given this wide us­age, M-pesa has be­come a global brand and when you travel across Africa or Europe, you shall find that peo­ple are very familiar with the name and ser­vice.

LT: Where does the mo­bile money con­cept come from?

Mphun­yet­sane: I read in one ar­ti­cle that the con­cept of mo­bile money was de­rived from the prac­tice of peo­ple trans­fer­ring air­time to their loved ones in the ru­ral ar­eas of Botswana and those loved ones would in turn, sell the air­time in ex­change for cash to buy gro­ceries.

M-pesa was then es­tab­lished to use mo­bile phones to send money to one’s home through a for­malised fi­nan­cial struc­ture that is reg­u­lated by Cen­tral Banks in or­der to safe­guard peo­ples’ monies within the sys­tem.

M-pesa has evolved from a ser­vice that al­lows peo­ple to only send money home, to a mul­ti­pur­pose plat­form whereby cus­tomers are able to pay bills, buy air­time, pay school fees and for other goods and ser­vices.

Es­sen­tially, the con­cept of mo­bile money be­came a pro­posed so­lu­tion to the prob­lem that there are large sec­tors of so­ci­ety, par­tic­u­larly in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, which are marginalised and do not have the re­quired doc­u­ments to open a bank ac­count nor the abil­ity to af­ford the as­so­ci­ated costs, yet own a mo­bile phone.

LT: WHAT ARE THE Benefits of us­ing M-pesa in com­par­i­son to other FI­NAN­CIAL In­sti­tu­tions?

Mphun­yet­sane: M-pesa al­lows peo­ple to ac­cess money in a sim­ple, af­ford­able and se­cure en­vi­ron­ment through one’s own mo­bile phone.

The trans­ac­tions can be car­ried out in one’s com­fort zone, be it at home or of­fice and not stand­ing in long, drain­ing queues.

We wanted to pro­vide bet­ter ser­vices to peo­ple who usu­ally travel long dis­tances to ac­cess fi­nan­cial ser­vices such as in­sur­ance, as well as pay­ing for a wide range of other ser­vices.

M-pesa al­lows you to con­ve­niently pay bills such as elec­tric­ity, in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums, wa­ter, and of late, Dstv (Dig­i­tal Satel­lite Tele­vi­sion).

We also wanted to en­sure ser-

vices can be ac­cessed with min­i­mal costs, al­low­ing for greater in­clu­sion. Trav­el­ing costs to ac­cess ser­vices are also elim­i­nated through the use of M-pesa.ad­di­tion­ally, M-pesa of­fers free cash-in, no monthly fees, and no min­i­mum bal­ance is im­posed on the M-pesa ac­count.

LT: What is Vo­da­com’s vi­sion with the M-pesa ser­vice?

Mphun­yet­sane: Vo­da­com has a much big­ger vi­sion than purely pro­vid­ing Ba­sotho with telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices; we would like to trans­form Ba­sotho’s lives by pro­vid­ing them with so­lu­tions that mat­ter most to them.

M-pesa is there­fore, seen as a way that many Ba­sotho will gain ac­cess to ser­vices they would oth­er­wise not have at all.

With M-pesa, we are work­ing to­wards build­ing a cash­less so­ci­ety, where car­ry­ing money around would no longer be a ne­ces­sity.

We have part­nered with gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions to dis­burse so­cial grants through M-pesa at low cost.

We also part­nered with in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions within the health sec­tor to also fa­cil­i­tate funds through M-pesa that are dis­bursed to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties of Le­sotho.

At the mo­ment, we are con­sult­ing with em­ploy­ers who pay their work­ers with cash, to utilise our ser­vice to min­imise the risk of car­ry­ing money.

For ex­am­ple, we are en­cour­ag­ing tex­tile in­dus­try fac­tory work­ers to re­ceive their salaries through M-PE-

sa, as this will save them trans­port money and in­crease the amounts they di­rectly take home.

We also have a “mer­chant” op­tion on the M-pesa menu which en­ables one to pay for gro­ceries in re­tail shops, food in restau­rants as well as ser­vices at hair sa­lons and many more.

Th­ese days when I go to gym, I’m able to pay my membership fee us­ing my M-pesa ac­count.

LT: How has M-pesa worked to­wards ac­com­mo­dat­ing the needs of marginalised groups, in­clud­ing the un­banked pop­u­la­tion?

Mphun­yet­sane: We work through our agents who are based in all the 10 dis­tricts of Le­sotho. All our 1 400 agents are trained to as­sist our cus­tomers and Le­sotho postal ser­vices, through their large ru­ral foot­print, also en­able us to reach the un­banked ru­ral pop­u­la­tion.

This is to al­low us to reach even the most marginalised peo­ple who are not able to ac­cess fi­nan­cial ser­vices pro­vided by com­mer­cial banks.

I think in­stead of com­pet­ing with banks, we are com­ple­ment­ing what they are do­ing in that in­sti­tu­tions such as in­sur­ance com­pa­nies that keep their money with banks serve our clients who in re­turn choose to pay their pre­mi­ums us­ing the MPesa ser­vice.

It has be­come much eas­ier for peo­ple to make their in­sur­ance pay­ments timeously be­cause they wouldn’t have wasted time in long what to ex­pect.“i wanted to get some­thing tan­gi­ble which would re­mind me of Vo­da­com and what the com­pany has done for me to­day. That is why I loaded the trol­ley with cook­ware for my fam­ily,” she said.

M-pesa Dis­trib­u­tor Spe­cial­ist Matha­bang Lin­tle Pha­latsi said the draw was the first since the com­pe­ti­tion was in­tro­duced in De­cem­ber last year.

“The in­ten­tion of the com­pe­ti­tion has been to raise aware­ness of the benefits M-pesa can bring to Ba­sotho and it is with such ac­tiv­i­ties that we cre­ate a plat­form to give back to our cus­tomers. “We would want peo­ple to be on the look­out for more such com­pe­ti­tions in their dis­tricts.

Even if they are not go­ing to be car­ried out in the man­ner of a ‘one-minute trol­ley-dash’, we are work­ing on bring­ing more valu­able ac­tiv­i­ties that would im­prove their lives and strengthen our mu­tual re­la­tion­ship.

Vo­da­com want more Ba­sotho like Ms Raseeke to ben­e­fit from our prod­ucts, so we are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple who have not reg­is­tered with M-pesa to give it a try to­day,” Ms Pha­latsi said.

Vo­da­com Le­sotho launched MPesa in July 2013 through which sub­scribers could send and re­ceive money, buy air­time and pay util­ity bills.

A rev­o­lu­tion­ary mon­e­tary ser­vice and driver of fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion and eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment, M-pesa has be­come ex­tremely popular in Le­sotho with 600 000 sub­scribers hav­ing reg­is­tered with the ser­vice to-date.

queues.

We have ba­si­cally im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween fi­nan­cial en­ti­ties.

LT: Your com­pany is a leader in of­fer­ing and pro­mot­ing tech­no­log­i­cal ser­vices. Is there a time in fu­ture when M-pesa would be avail­able on­line or on more ad­vanced de­vices such as smartphones?

Mphun­yet­sane: We are launch­ing M-pesa on­line ac­cess chan­nels in a few weeks where cus­tomers can ac­cess the menu on their smartphones or per­sonal com­put­ers in ad­di­tion to the ex­ist­ing USSD chan­nel used via mo­bile phones.

How­ever, our main fo­cus at the mo­ment is en­sur­ing that our cus­tomers who do no not have ac­cess to in­ter­net and do not have smartphones can en­joy the ben­e­fit of our fi­nan­cial ser­vice.

Cur­rently, Vo­da­com’s 3G net­work is vir­tu­ally avail­able across the en­tire coun­try, and to al­low for more of our cus­tomers to be able to ac­cess in­ter­net ser­vices we have in­tro­duced low-cost smartphones to ex­pand for all our cus­tomers to be able to ac­cess in­ter­net ser­vices.

Con­cur­rently, we have re­cently launched LTE that pro­vides world­class in­ter­net speeds and en­hances the speed of in­ter­net ser­vices.

Thus, we have en­sured that all our cus­tomers have a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent chan­nels through which they are able to ac­cess the M-pesa ser­vice. LT: What chal­lenges has M-pesa faced since its im­ple­men­ta­tion and how has Vo­da­com worked to over­come those chal­lenges?

Mphun­yet­sane: Our main chal­lenge is cus­tomer-ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness about M-pesa. We still have a lot of cus­tomers who do not know what M-pesa is and how it works.

I would there­fore ap­peal to cus­tomers who are al­ready en­joy­ing the benefits of M-pesa to spread the good word to their fam­i­lies and friends to trans­form their lives.

In or­der to ramp-up ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness, we have in­tro­duced M-pesa ed­u­ca­tional ra­dio pro­grammes on lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions.

On th­ese pro­grammes, cus­tomers are also al­lowed to call in and ask ques­tions that they may have about the ser­vice.

We also have our call-cen­tre that can be called by all our cus­tomers to re­ceive step-by-step guid­ance on how to use the ser­vice.

Fur­ther­more, we have on-the­ground ac­ti­va­tions where our pro­mot­ers help cus­tomers to reg­is­ter, as well as, as­sist them on how to make trans­ac­tions.

LT: Vo­da­com is one of the com­pa­nies in the pri­vate sec­tor that has been com­ple­ment­ing gov­ern­ment ef­forts in its man­date to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion. What ac­tiv­i­ties has Vo­da­com put in place to en­sure the gov­ern­ment has re­sources use­ful to sup­port such ini­tia­tives like M-pesa?

Mphun­yet­sane: Our M-pesa ven­ture has gar­nered a lot of sup­port from gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions such as the Min­istry of Fi­nance and Cen­tral Bank of Le­sotho, which are also work­ing to ad­dress the chal­lenge of fi­nan­cial ex­clu­sion to en­sure all Ba­sotho, ir­re­spec­tive of where they are lo­cated, can ac­cess fi­nan­cial ser­vices.

We work very closely with the Fi­nan­cial In­tel­li­gence Unit ( FIU) which is re­spon­si­ble for com­bat­ing mon­ey­laun­der­ing which can oc­cur through M-pesa.

Vo­da­com has put sev­eral con­trols in place that min­imise mon­ey­laun­der­ing ac­tiv­i­ties through M-pesa.

We have tried to make it as safe for our clients as we pos­si­bly can.

LT: Vo­da­com has of­ten re­it­er­ated its mission to have a cash­less so­ci­ety. What other fu­ture plans should we ex­pect from the MPesa brand?

Mphun­yet­sane: We are cur­rently work­ing on ex­pand­ing our ser­vice to in­clude cross-bor­der pay­ments. Our cus­tomers will soon be able to send and re­ceive money from South Africa through M-pesa.

We also plan to in­tro­duce en­hanced ser­vices that will bring more con­ve­nience to our cus­tomers as well as ex­cel­lent cus­tomer-ex­pe­ri­ence.

First M-pesa Com­pe­ti­tion win­ner Leo­nia raseeke

Ex­ec­u­tive Head of M-pesa Palesa Mphun­yet­sane

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