Airtel Kenya and Safaricom start cross-network mobile money trials

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Employees to be guinea pigs in trial of interoperability, while Telkom Kenya starts up its own mobile money platform

Two Kenyan operators, Airtel and Safaricom, have started to try out a joint mobile money system to allow customers of each to exchange funds.

Meanwhile the third operator in the market, Telkom Kenya, is launching its own independent platform, after it pulled out of the Orange Money system in 2017.

Airtel and Safaricom are trying out their interoperability with 100 employees of each company, starting yesterday, according to local reports.

Safaricom, part owned by Vodafone’s sub-Saharan African offshoot Vodacom, is the world pioneer of mobile money, with its M-Pesa service that was launched in 2007. By 2014 half of Kenya’s gross domestic product was running through M-Pesa, and in 2016 transactions on an average day totalled $150 million.

The government of Kenya has long wanted the three companies to allow cross-network transactions. Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru welcomed the move to interoperability. “This is a service that will make sending and receiving money across networks seamless and will have a lot of benefits for the users, who will not be limited in their options,” he said, quoted in the Kenya Standard newspaper.

Former incumbent Telkom Kenya is not included at first. In 2016 Orange sold its controlling stake in the operation to Helios Investment Partners and last year the company abandoned its use of Orange Money.

Now, however, it is ready to return to the market with its own platform. CEO Aldo Mareuse said, according to the Ecofin news agency: “Our platform is now ready. We are in the final stages to get our licence, and our hope is to launch the service as soon as we get a licence.”

Telkom Kenya will ensure its system is interoperable with Airtel’s and Safaricom’s, said the Standard.

At the moment, if an Airtel customer sends money to a Safaricom customer it is not lost, but the person receiving the money has to go to an agent to collect the cash. Once interoperability is running, a customer of either operator will be able to send funds directly into another’s account.