One of the lesser-known anecdotes describing the making of M-Pesa; the hugely successful telco-led mobile money service that has inspired similar creations and turned the African continent into the unofficial global capital for mobile money, references a meeting that took place in the early-2000s.
The top brass at Kenya’s leading telco, Safaricom, had met with top banking executives at Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi to discuss a novel project based on a rough idea: “People were transferring value through airtime over telco networks, now let’s use this same system to enable them to transfer money to each other and to institutions.”
Banks were brought to the table because the idea would only take off if banks played the very important role of managing accounts that would be in tune with the electronic float in the entire system.
But as the story goes, most of the bank CEOs laughed off the idea and had already excused themselves from the meeting at lunchtime. Only one bank agreed to p...