East Africa’s largest telecommunications company Safaricom has announced that it will be launching its new “Bonga” platform to 600 beta users in the coming week.
The social platform is expected to assimilate with their existing mobile payment services offering users further ease of doing business and leveraging the might of their M-Pesa mobile money product. This was Kamal Bhattacharya’s vision of the product and he says he sees Bonga as a vehicle to “move beyond M-Pesa by leveraging its power as a social network to connect people to other product solutions.” Bhattacharya serves as Safaricom’s Chief Innovation Officer.
The Bonga platform which is a product of the Safaricom Appha innovation incubator will be released to the public in three phases. The first will be its Bonga Sasa application allowing for social interactions, messaging and sending of money between individuals whilst engaged in conversation. The second, Bonga Baraza, scheduled to hit mobile phones in a couple of months will allow users to collect money for “purpose-driven events” such as fundraisers.
Lastly, and perhaps one of the more crucial elements of the service is Bonga Biashara. Bonga Biashara is expected to continue the digitization process of Kenya’s informal trading. Market research by the Alpha team found that roughly “2.5 million people doing side-hustles with a smartphone in Kenya and 12.5 million total running small businesses on smart and USSD devices.”
This move will continue to widen the gap, separating Safaricom’s M-Pesa from other fintech service providers in the region while making them formidable competitors within emerging markets. After recently being awarded the GSMA Mobile Money Certificate, in conjunction with its collaboration with PayPal to offer a service that allows the movement of funds between M-Pesa and PayPal accounts, M-Pesa also continues to enhance its global footprint. Joseph Ogutu, Director of Strategy at Safaricom knows all too well just how much of an advantage this is.
In a press release, Ogutu was quoted saying, “ M-PESA’s collaboration with PayPal will open up global marketplaces and the global economy to millions of Kenyans and Kenyan-based businesses. Beyond money transfers, this development ushers in a new era of speed and convenience beyond borders, as we work towards innovating robust platforms through which more entrepreneurs and consumers can benefit from the growing eCommerce industry.”
In Kenya alone, Safaricom has a mobile subscriber acquisition of 69%, with M-Pesa generating USD 525 Mn of the company’s USD 2 Bn annual revenues and 27 million customers across a network of 136,000 agents. Bonga is not a unique initiative with the company, having added other service products to its mobile and fintech networks such as Digital TV, Lipa Na and M-Kopa in the past. Safaricom has for the last few years dominated the local East African market and in a similar fashion to WeChat, has all the potential to expand globally.