Hand holding mobile phone

Kenya announces full interoperability for mobile money

The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) announced the complete interoperability of mobile money payment services in Kenya.

This is the last step for mobile money payments, and the milestone was supported by three networks, Airtel Money Kenya Limited, Safaricom PLC, and Telkom Kenya Limited. It will benefit 560,000 vendors and almost 28 million customers. 

Rajesh Savji Parmar, CEO of Cloud Africa, a fintech company focusing on deploying its remittance and mobile money services, takes an optimistic viewpoint to this news.

“Interoperability in Kenya matters. After 15 years, the country’s legacy set the standard for innovation for ‘momo’ across Africa (M-Pesa). The importance of a more open approach in the evolution of Kenyan digitization can only increase innovation, opportunity, and inclusion, driving down costs and creating convenience for its 28 million customers. 

Why is interoperability important? 

GSMA, an industry organization representing the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, explains the importance of interoperability stems from commercial viability. It can significantly reduce an economy’s reliance on cash, which introduces a range of benefits for consumers, businesses, and governments. “In many emerging markets where cash remains ‘king,’ and mobile money represents a core pathway to accessing a formal financial account, successful interoperability ensures that more values remain in digital form.” 

Or, as Parmar points out, “open systems bring down the walls of monopoly which ultimately do not serve a forward-facing Africa. Pan-African Payment and Settlement System is the final pillar of the ambitious African Continental Free Trade Area; this can only succeed if countries like Kenya take the steps towards endorsing local interoperability.”

Kenyan landscape 

TheCityUK is the industry-led body representing UK-based financial and related professionals. Kenya stands out as one of the world’s leaders in mobile money and is home to perhaps the most well-known example of fintech-based financial inclusion, M-Pesa.

Since their implementation, M-Pesa and similar digital financial products have catalyzed economic growth and inclusion primarily because of the services layered on the mobile and digital platform infrastructure that is appropriate, affordable, and accessible.

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For the Kenyan landscape, specifically without interoperability, customers were limited to the network they were on to make payments and resorted to inaccessible alternative methods.

“Full interoperability will facilitate the deepening of digitization of payments, increasing choice, affordability and customer-centric payment services,” the CBK states. Kenya’s National Payment Strategy 2022-2025 also highlights this objective. 

Additionally, according to the CBK, this is significant because “customers can now make payments for utilities, schools business and other service providers without regard to the network provider.” Complimenting the build on the person-to-person (P2P) interoperability implemented in 2018. 

The scale and power of mobile money are set to build a more inclusive world. Behind the numbers and milestones are the socio-economic benefits mobile money brings to individuals, communities, and public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

  • Helen Femi Williams is a freelance journalist and podcaster interested in fintech, politics, economics, and their intersections. She is the host of the letsgetlitical podcast, a fortnightly show interviewing guests from all different sides of the political spectrum, in partnership with the Mozilla Foundation. Prior to this role, she worked as an innovation consultant developing insurtech and fintech products and ideas for brands, startups, and major corporations. She studied International Relations at the University of Nottingham (UK and Malaysia).