Bill Gates
Communications Authority
Eddy Njoroge

The long road for T-Kash in money market

So Telkom Kenya wants a piece of the ‘mobile money’ pie with T-kash. That pie is so near, yet so far. And, if approached the traditional sales manner, the pie will remain in the sky. Here’s why. In his speech at the grand launch, CEO Aldo Mareuse was upbeat. Looking at the big blue ocean he told of untold opportunities for T-Kash. “95 per cent of all money transactions in Kenya are still cash based.” True. It’s also true that the peculiar Kenyan is fully aware of M-Pesa and ecstatic about the user- experience and convenience, but still chooses to transact in cash. Offering T-Kash, MobiKash, Tangaza Pesa and, now defunct Yu Cash as alternatives will not be hungrily lapped up as say, cell phones were, to Telkom’s landline. It’s much more complicated. As Airtel Money (with Airtel’s global might behind it) has proved, even giving money transfer services for free does not magically shore up your numbers. Just like you likely use Windows but browse with Google not Microsoft’s Bing.

Dear CEO, employees want you to consult

M-Pesa isn’t a service any more. It’s a way of life for over half of Kenya’s population. It’s why we casually say, “I’ll M-pesa (send) you the money” and get irritated with the response, “I don’t have M-Pesa”. Taking M-Pesa head-on is taking a culture head-on. You lose. Which is why Telkom’s Chairman, Eddy Njoroge, was more cautious. Unless the playing field is levelled, small players will close shop. Again, it’s not that straight-forward in today’s new normal. The innovation precedes regulation catchphrase was triggered 20 years ago. In 1998 the US government was under intense pressure to break Microsoft’s (Windows 98) monopoly. BBC reported that a disappointed Microsoft founder, Bill Gates retorted: “A proposal to bundle Netscape’s Communicator browser with Windows is like telling Coca-Cola to sell three cans of Pepsi in each six pack.This is a step backwards for America, consumers and for the PC Industry that is leading our nation’s economy into the 21st century.” Time proved him right. The internet became prevalent shortly thereafter and innovations exploded. Forward thinking regulators push and pull with disruptive brands (like Uber) but do not tinker with them. That M-Pesa is in existence today is more an accolade to a progressive central bank (desirous of increased financial inclusivity and penetration) than Safaricom’s innovativeness. Today, that regulator is challenging banks (read, financial sector players) to change their business models to the new normal because, he says, “innovation is not just another app”. As for the Communications Authority, it switched off TV station incumbents who had refused to switch to the new digital normal. Will regulatory intervention help Telkom? I wish them luck.I think, like Equitel, Telkom should consider a flank (not head-on) attack. The problem is not simply dominance. It’s an unprecedentedly empowered customer, the rapidly changing times we live in and the disruptive way of thinking that’s required to survive in them. What do you think?

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