FILE PHOTO: Robert Collymore Chief Executive of Kenya's telecom operator Safaricom poses during a Reuters interview at their headquarters in Nairobi
NAIROBI - Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest telecommunications company, has upgraded its mobile-phone money transfer platform, allowing more third-party applications to plug into the payment system.

Until now, the unit of Vodacom Group had partnered with only a handful of applications running on its M-Pesa platform, including M-Shwari and KCB M-Pesa, mobile-banking products by Commercial Bank of Africa and KCB Group respectively. It also supports M-Kopa, a hire-purchase company for products such as solar lamps and television sets.

“We do realise that the e-commerce potential exists far beyond the platform, and hence some merchants may need to implement such solutions on their existing platforms,” chief executive Bob Collymore said.

Safaricom is looking for ways to build on the success of M-Pesa, which dominates East Africa’s biggest economy and is used by subscribers to pay for everything from utility bills to plane tickets and hair cuts.

The company accounts for 75% of the country’s 40.6 million Internet users, while M-Pesa handled 432.5 billion shillings (R54.37bn) of mobile commerce transactions in the first quarter, more than half the total 627.5bn shillings, according to data.

Previously, developers took as many as 60 days to plug their applications into the M-Pesa system. An upgrade known as Daraja has cut that down to two days only, Collymore said.

“It really simplifies how the customer interacts with different platforms,” Leonard Korir, chief executive of MobiDev, developers of mobile and web applications, said in Nairobi. “The time to integrate M-Pesa has also greatly improved. That saves you a lot in terms of time and money.”

Credit rating

Safaricom said earlier this month that it plans to introduce an e-commerce platform along the lines of Amazon.com’s marketplace within eight months. It will target formal retail and informal online trading in Kenya.

Kenya’s biggest company by market value also plans a credit rating feature for subscribers that financial institutions can assess, and eventually will be expanded to other sectors, Collymore said.

“Once a customer authorises a financial institution to access their information, the institution can then factor this information in their financial dealing with the customer,” he said.

Safaricom shareshave gained 29% this year to 24.75 shillings. 

-BLOOMBERG