Safaricom to launch messaging app linked to M-Pesa

Safaricom, #ticker:SCOM Kenya’s biggest telecoms company, is piloting a social messaging app that will link to its mobile money platform in an attempt to move the company into the application business, the company said on Tuesday.

Bonga, which means chat in Kiswahili, will be integrated with the company’s popular financial services platform M-Pesa to allow the almost 28 million of its users to communicate beyond sending money to one another, transforming the platform into a type of social network.

“It’s one thing to share information with somebody it’s another thing to make a payment, to send money to somebody,” Kamal Bhattacharya, chief innovation officer at Safaricom, said in a telephone interview.

“We want to use this platform to make it much easier … for people to engage.”

Bhattacharya said that M-Pesa users will be able to message each other on Bonga in three ways: user-to-user, user-to-business and fundraising through “social groups” much like the group function on WhatsApp.

Safaricom is piloting Bonga with its staff before planning to launch later this year.

Bhattacharya said the platform will be end-to-end encrypted. “We cannot read the messages, we cannot keep the messages,” he said.

Safaricom is 35 per cent owned by South African group Vodacom and 5 per cent by Vodacom’s major shareholder Vodafone.

With nearly 30 million users, the company has 69 per cent of Kenya’s total mobile phone subscribers.

The introduction of Bonga is part of the company’s strategy to boost revenue and add value to its consumers beyond its offerings of voice calls, mobile money and text messages.

It’s first-half revenue announced in November showed that revenue from M-Pesa rose 16 per cent, while revenue from phone calls rose by far less – only 4 per cent. Mobile internet service revenue rose by nearly a third.

“Our future is to become a platform that enables business in Kenya as well as our consumers to do their work in a different way,” Bhattacharya said.

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