Technology (1)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 00:00

Cash at the Speed of Light

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“Change cannot be given to you every time. You must ask for it.” These are the words of one P.L. Martin.

You have probably never heard of him because he is a bus conductor on the Ngong to town route in Nairobi. Mr. Martin is a witty and sarcastic guy. Once in a while, mostly in the mornings when he is still fresh, he will try to polish his English by speaking to the passengers. That is how he came up with that quote.

Mr. Martin is slender and about 5.8. He has a huge gap in his top teeth that is easily noticeable. His eyes are small and scarlet red either from lack of sleep or substance abuse. He has an overgrown, unkempt beard and his lips are chapped. He is chewing furiously on some green weed, probably khat-miraa which is legal in Kenya. Dangling on his lean frame is a faded maroon half coat that has tiny holes as if they once served as a meal for rats.

His long legs are covered with what appears to be trousers straight out of a cow’s mouth. Generally he is a loud character just like most of his colleagues. The mini bus he conducts has very loud music and the windows are decorated with posters of celebrities and small quotes like “if the music is too loud then you must be too old.”

It isn’t quite full and keeps making stops in almost all the stages. Every stage appears to have some young men who call out to passersby to get in and in turn Martin or Marto as these chaps call him, hands them a twenty shilling coin.

A smartly dressed lady probably in her mid twenties gets in and takes a seat adjacent to the door. She has white earphones on and is clad in a navy blue skirt suit that is an inch above the knee. She has a chic black leather bag that has a “river island” label. This is a high-end fashion brand with its headquarter in London.

She definitely looks classy and one almost wonders why she is even using public means of transport. Her hair is neatly tied at the back with a tiny black hair band. She has cat eyes and black glasses that complement her earthy brown flawless skin.

After the mini bus moves for about fifty meters, Marto snaps his fingers a sign for her to hand in her fare. She definitely doesn’t hear and the now agitated man taps her and jingles the coins in his hand.

The lady opens a zip on the side of her statement bag and appears to look for some money but in vain. She quickly removes her earphones and opens the main zipper. She removes an equally chic wallet but it is also empty of cash.

Marto tells her in Swahili “madame, tumeona wengi kama wewe mnajifanyanga sana vile mmefika na ata fifty bob ya fare hamna. Leo utashuta iyo doh” lady we have seen many like you who pretend to have it all but they can barely afford fifty shillings for their bus fare today you will fart out that money.

Some people inside the bus give her sympathetic eyes while others giggle at her situation. She calmly removes her mobile and calls a few numbers explaining to them that she somewhat forgot her money. She then asks Marto if she could send him Mpesa. He tells her rather sarcastically to send it as credit and gives her his number. Finally fifteen minutes later the matter has been resolved and peace can resume.

What would I have done if this was ten years ago when mobile money was non-existent! The smart lady thinks as she wipes her forehead with a spotlessly white handkerchief, one of the three that always occupy the left side of her black leather handbag.

First pioneered in Kenya by Safaricom back in 2007, MPESA has been a booming success.

There have been about 200 of these experiments around the world, and maybe only 4 or 5 have been successful.” This is how Michael Joseph, former Safaricom CEO described mobile money to the Financial Times in 2012.

There are more than 17 million Mpesa users in the country and more than forty thousand agents. This is only in one network-Safaricom yet there are other networks which provide the same for their customers namely, Airtel Orange and Yu. This is the power that has been placed in the hands of Kenyans.

The mobile money transfer has changed lives greatly. Many people have been able to save money on the Mpesa account at their convenience and pay their utility bills like electricity buying tickets and paying for services easily.

Safaricom has also introduced loans through partnering with banks like the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) and Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB). This partnership has helped people access loans easily at a small repayment rate.

“I was unwell and away from home. I needed money to buy some medicine but I was out of cash so I asked for a loan on M-Shwari and I was given 2000 which was more than enough.” Risper Anna a 30 year old boutique owner explains.

The user is able to access the loan on their phones directly as long as they have registered with Mpesa and their lines have been active for a period of 6 months or more. The more you save, the more money you can borrow.

The network providers have partnered with several companies to ensure that their customers can pay their bills from the comfort of their phones. It has also revolutionized mobile banking through access to personal bank accounts right through Mpesa or Airtel money by sending and withdrawing money into ones account.

There is no longer need to queue in a banking hall to deposit money as one can do so right at the comfort of their homes and offices. It has helped small business owners to grow by providing them with a paybill number which helps their clients pay directly to their account at no extra fee. This means that there is more security as one doesn’t need to walk around with a huge sum of money to make a purchase.

Mobile banking is easy to access especially in rural areas where people were either afraid of banking their money or had no access to banks. They can easily receive money from relatives either abroad or in the big cities at an affordable rate.

If mobile banking can be compared to a super hero it would definitely take the character of superman. Classic examples of heroes who save people in trouble and make them feel at ease. When you have money problems Mpesa will be there to give you a loan, if you have no electricity they will give you bundles on credit and to top it all up you will only require an activated line. What would life be without this modern day “superman?’’