Airtel, Telkom pushes to share M-Pesa agents and merchants

Safaricom’s rivals Airtel and Telkom are now pushing to share M-Pesa agents and merchants in what could be a tertiary scaling of mobile-money interoperability.

On Friday, the two operators got the nod allowing its mobile-money customers under Airtel Money and T-Kash to make payments to M-Pesa paybills.

The paybill merchant interoperability represents the secondary phase of mobile-money integration which had earlier in the year seen Airtel and Telkom customers access payments on M-Pesa tills.

“I believe there will be customers who will be walking to agents trying to deposit or withdraw money. Presently, we have only achieved a sub-set of interoperability. In the fullness of time, we want to make sure that customers can walk to any agent or merchant and transact,” noted Telkom Kenya Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer Julius Cheptiony.

According to data from the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) the number of registered mobile money agents stood at 293,589 at the end of March 2022, the bulk of which are M-Pesa agents.

Meanwhile, Safaricom estimates the number of merchants under its wing at over 400,000.

The sharing of mobile money agents or merchants would be a win for both Airtel and Telkom who continue to significantly trail Safaricom’s mobile-money service M-Pesa.

In an admission of the leverage presented by mobile-money interoperability, Airtel says the sharing of infrastructure serves to make the company a wholesome telco.

“Interoperability makes us a complete operator. We’ve had voice and data services that we were playing in and now accessing over 400,000 merchants across Kenya gives us the chance to offer all possible services,” noted Airtel Networks Kenya MD Ashish Malhotra.

Both Airtel and Telkom are betting on full mobile-money interoperability to retain customers who will now be incentivised to stay on one network from previously requiring more than one SIM to access financial services.

The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) which has midwifed interoperability between the rival networks has welcomed the ongoing changes which align to its quest for deepening the digitization of payments.

“Without full interoperability, customers were limited to the network they were on in order to make payments, and had to resort to alternative methods that were neither customer-friendly nor affordable,” CBK said in a statement on Friday.

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