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Safaricom’s Mobile Banking Thesis

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Updated: May 21st, 2020

Analyzing & Summarizing the Innovation Environment Safaricom’s Mobile Banking


In 2005, Safaricom, a mobile phone company based in Kenya launched M-PESA, a mobile money transfer technique. This innovation was however a brain child of Vodafone, which is Safaricom’s subsidiary company based in the United Kingdom.

With funding from UK based Department of International Development (DFID), Safaricom, which is Kenya’s leading mobile service provider agreed to roll out the M-PESA on a trial basis in the East African country. The pilot program which commenced in October 2005 saw one mainstream bank and a microfinance institution partner with the mobile service provider for purposes of providing it with the banking infrastructure needed during the pilot period.

Kenya as a market

Kenya is an African country located on the east side of the continent. The country is astride the equator and borders Tanzania on the South, Uganda and Ethiopia on the North and Somalia on the North East border. To the Southeast lies the Indian Ocean. 2007 estimates indicate that Kenya has a population of approximately 37 million people with annual growth rate estimated at 2.8 percent (Fan, 2009).

Although fairly late adopters in mobile telephony, People in Kenya have caught up pretty fast. In 1999, two mobile operators, Safaricom and Celtel ventured into the Kenyan market. By the end of 1999, only 17,000 Kenyans had subscribed to mobile telephony.

By December 2007 however, 11.3 million Kenyans had subscribed to mobile telephony. Meanwhile however, other mobile telephone companies had entered the market. Fortunately for Safaricom, it remains the largest mobile service provider gauged by the subscriber base. According to Omwansa (2009), the company has 80 percent share of the entire market size.

When Safaricom launched M-PESA, it commissioned agents in different parts of the country; the agent’s work was primarily to receive deposits from customers and electronically transfer this to the client’s M-PESA account. This electronic money transfer would then be registered as a cash float on the clients phone account.

The agents also allowed clients to withdraw money from their accounts by simply entering the amount they wanted to withdraw on the cell phones M-PESA menu, followed by the agent number. In a country where commercial banks are few and wide apart, this financial innovation was embraced by both the banked and the unbanked population largely due to the convenience and the ease of transaction.

Safaricom however maintained that the M-PESA account was not a bank account mainly because people could neither earn interest on money deposited nor take up loans as is the case with ordinary banking accounts.

How M-PESA works

Once a person opens an M-PESA account through an authorized agent, Safaricom registers this as an electronic account that one can use to receive, send or withdraw money. Any money deposited in the account is managed by Safaricom, which pools the amount in a mainstream bank in the country. By pooling the money in the commercial bank, Mas & Morawczynski (2009) notes that the amount is backed as liquid deposits in the commercial bank.

The agents spread through out the country allow people an easy access to money as compared to the limited number of automated teller machines or banks. Mino (2009) notes that ever since its launch, M-PESA has eased the domestic money transfer as previously people would use couriers, money orders or bank transfers to send money, which would be time consuming and often inconveniencing considering that most financial services are located in towns while quite a significant number of recipients lived in rural areas.

M-PESA screen shot.

Figure 1: M-PESA screen shot

Source: Hughes & Lonie (2009)

Stage of industry evolution – life cycle

The industrial life cycle model indicates that a business or an innovation like M-PESA would have four stages of growth (Shaun, 2009). They are: Start-up; growth; maturity; and decline.

Gauging by the events and the time-line that has passed between the trial phase and now, it is easy to place M-PESA on the growth cycle. It is obvious that the start-up period for the money transfer service was between 2005 and 2007, when M-PESA was operating as a pilot project. At this stage, it only attracted early adopters and it registered approximately 1700 users and recruited about 250 agents across the country.

After the successful pilot program, M-PESA was formally launched as a mobile money transfer method in Kenya. This not only increased the consumer base and the agent numbers, but the second-mobile service provider in the country Celtel launched a similar service dubbed Sokotele to compete against Safaricom’s M-PESA. Unlike Safaricom however, Celtel lacked the infrastructure that Safaricom had laid during the two year pilot program thus meaning that Safaricom still had an advantage over its competitor.

The fact that money transfer could only be done between people within the same network, who had to be registered with M-PESA, gave Safaricom another advantage. At this point in its life cycle, the company was (and still is) able to capitalize on consumers who are catching up and hence the mobile telephone company still stands a good chance to consolidate as much market share as it can.

In this study’s opinion, the M-PESA product is still in the growth phase mainly because the Kenyan market still has a wide untapped mobile telephony potential. Still, Safaricom does not appear to face much competition from the other three mobile service providers especially since Sokotele (now Zap after a change of name) lacks the penetration that M-PESA has in Kenya’s rural areas.

Still, M-PESA is still venturing to new markets and in 2008, Kenyans living in the United Kingdom could use their cell phones to send money to their relatives in Kenya. In May 2010, a local bank (Equity Bank) partnered with M-PESA to allow M-PESA account holders to open a savings account (M-KESHO account) with the bank.

This would in turn allow M-PESA account holders to transfer money from their mobile phone accounts to the bank’s account without having to go visit the bank physically. In view of this, it is clear that Safaricom is still venturing into new frontiers and hence is still developing the M-PESA product. As such, M-PESA is yet to hit the “maturity and decline stages of the product development life cycle” as defined by Bradford et al. (2000).

Strategic planning in Safaricom

Bradford et al. (2000) states that strategic planning “allows a firm to define its objectives, assess its internal and external environment, formulate a strategy that fits and implement the same” (p. 121). Further, a strategic plan has provisions where the firm is able to evaluate its progress and make the needful adjustments. Accordingly, a strategic planning process has five processes namely: Mission and objectives; environmental scanning; strategy formulation; strategy implementation; and evaluation and Control.

Internal Analysis

Of special interest to this study is Safaricom’s environmental scan since it defines the company’s operating environment, which is of special significance to its success or failure in its business operations.

To understand the internal environment, this paper will use a “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats” (SWOT) analysis in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses facing the company. Bradford et al (2000), observes that a “SWOT analysis is essential in matching a company’s capabilities to the available resources, and the competitive environment it operates in” (p. 121).

Safaricom’s SWOT Analysis


According to Hughes & Lonie (2009), the two representatives from Vodafone who lay the ground work and the partnership needed to roll off M-PESA, Safaricom had core competencies which made rolling M-PESA on its network less challenging

  • The company had the systems and connectivity capabilities needed to roll the money transfer product. This meant that whatever commercial product that was developed by the innovators had to fit within the existing systems and network capabilities.
  • The company had an already existing network of dealer outlet. Having worked with Safaricom previously, most dealers had no problem becoming M-PESA agents once they were convinced the project was economically viable.
  • Safaricom was not the developer of M-PESA and hence the burden of innovation and implementation lay squarely on the shoulders of Vodafone. However, as Hughes & Lonie (2009) notes, Vodafone is too big a company to be interested in a small market like Kenya. This means that the benefits of a successful money transfer service would be passed to the Kenyan people as well as the partnering mobile-service provider.


Bradford et al. (2000) holds the opinion that the absence of specific strengths in business is perceived as weakness. Fortunately for Safaricom, and in this study’s observations, the weaknesses are not as many as to deter the innovative product from existence.

  • One of the outstanding weaknesses in Safaricom is that its 80 percent market share presents both fortunes and bad-tidings at times. The former happens when the communication lines are jammed by too many calls thus jamming the communication networks. While this was initially a problem encountered in the voice and SMS products only, M-PESA also encounters such problems from time to time. Luckily, the problem never lasts for long although it inconveniences quite a number of clients whenever the problem occurs.


  • With Mobile money transfers gaining popularity by the day, opportunities for Safaricom abounds not only in the Kenyan Market, but also in the extensive east African Market. Omwansa (2009) observes that M-PESA has already been launched in neighboring Tanzania, and the prospects of partnering with local banks to extend the service to mainstream banks have already caught up. As of June 2010, three commercial banks in Kenya had already signed up with Safaricom to allow money transfers from the M-PESA accounts to their banks accounts. The banks were identified as Equity Bank Kenya Limited, Kenya Commercial Bank and Family Bank of Kenya.
  • Loose regulations by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) have also afforded M-PESA room for growth unmatched by any other institution in the financial sector. Omwansa (2009) reports that CBK has maintained that M-PESA is not a banking account and hence cannot be regulated as commercial banks. Since it is a fairly new product that has benefited a lot of the Kenyan populace, Omwansa (2009) also observes that the regulatory agencies seems to have an “unwritten” agreement to let M-PESA be. This is largely thought to be spurred by fears that regulating it may stifle its growth.


  • Although Safaricom is the dominant mobile service provider in the Kenyan market today, one cannot rule out the possibility of more intense competition from other players in future. Omwansa (2009) for example observes that more mobile service providers are investing in the Kenyan market offering competitive rates compared to the rates offered by Safaricom for its voice and SMS products and this could change the market dynamics in the future.

Industry Analysis

Bradford et al (2000) holds the opinion that a company should evaluate the industry environment before venturing into the same. This allows the company to know what to expect, the barriers it is likely to face, substitute products available in the target market and the intensity and kind of industry rivalry to expect. One of the ideal ways of gauging all these is the Porter’s five forces framework, which this study uses to evaluate M-PESA’s operating environment.


According to Porter (1998), competition among rival firms has the ability to reduce profits that the firms get from their respective market shares. In Safaricom’s case however, the main competitor in the market was Celtel, which had no product to compete with M-PESA.

This presented an advantage to Safaricom, which would have ample time to lay its mobile money transfer at its own pace without fears that the main competitor would out do it. As noted by Omwansa (2009), Celtel only tried out the mobile money transfer after Safaricom had tried it and succeeded.

The lack of penetration of Celtel’s part meant that Safaricom remained and still remains the largest provide of mobile money transfer services in Kenya. As such, the would be rivalry failed to be because Celtel’s initiative did not succeed as one would expect especially in a market where it has already been proven that most people transacting on the mobile phone platform do not own bank accounts.

According to Porter (1998), rivalries between firms operating in the same environment intensify for a number of reasons. They include: many firms in the same market; a slow growing market; high-fixed costs; uncompetitive storage costs; low or inexistent switching costs; low brand identification; high barrier to exit the market; diversity of rival firms; industry shakeout leading to overcrowding.

Analyzing the competitive environment which Safaricom and its product M-PESA operates in, one realizes that none of the factors mentioned above are true in the Kenyan Mobile telephony market and least of all the mobile money transfer sector. This therefore means that Safaricom can only anticipate for probable rivalry in future, but is free to dominate the market presently, just as was the case when M-PESA was launched.

Threats of substitutes

According to Porter’s view, the threat of substitutes occur when better performing products or services are available in the market. Cheaper products or services also affect the consumer choices. Analyzing M-PESA and its core competitor Zap (changed name from Sokotele when Celtel was acquired by Zain); the latter has fairly lower transaction costs when compared to the former.

As indicated in the diagrams graphics below, Zap is much fairer in its pricing than M-PESA. While this would have given Zap a price-based advantage over M-PESA, the statistics on the ground suggests otherwise. Although acquiring statistics on Zap usage was not successful, this study easily obtained statistics from M-PESA, which indicates that the customer base for the service was at more than 2 million people in the 2007/2008 financial year, with 2,329 agents through out the country.

In the 2008/2009 financial year, both the customer and agent numbers had increased with records indicating that there were over 6 million M-PESA customers and 8, 650 agents. By November 2009, the number had yet again gone up to 5 million customers and 14, 764 agents (Safaricom, 2009).

M_PESA tariffs.

Figure 2: M_PESA tariffs

ZAP tariffs.

Figure 3: ZAP tariffs

Although this study would like to believe that Zap poses a real threat of substitute to M-PESA, it is apparent that the former would have to strengthen its subscriber base as well as its ZAP network across the Kenyan market in order to pose a real substitution threat to M-PESA.

Buyer Power

In Porter’s, buyer power is considered a major consideration that a firm must make when analyzing the industry environment in which they seek to operate. Buyer power refers to the impact that consumers of product and services have on the industry. Most consumers would rather have a situation where they have satisfactory products and services at low prices.

However, this is only possible in a competitive environment where the there are few buyers in a rather large market share; the products are standardized; or where buyers can attain backward integration which would in turn threaten market players.

In M-PESA’s case, the buyer power does not seem to be such an applicable concept because Omwansa (2009) reports that the mobile money transfer services has been received and adopted by the banked as well as the unbanked population in equal measure.

More to this, there seems to be a wide acceptance among the M-PESA clients of not only the appropriateness of the services in a country where banks are mainly located in town centers, but also the speed of transfer is something that is much appreciated by the Kenyan market.

Upon making a deposit to one’s account through an M-PESA agent, there is an instant notification through an SMS of the money transfer. One can then choose to use the money deposited in their account to pay bills, transfer money to someone else’s account or electronically buy airtime for use of one’s phone (Safaricom, 2010).

Barriers/ threat to entry

According to Porter (1998), barrier or threats to a company entering a specific market can arise from different source. Key among them is barriers created by the government. Luckily for M-PESA, the Kenyan government was more than willing to create a facilitating environment.

According to Omwansa (2009), this readiness by the Kenyan government can be explained that Kenya is a developing country that understands that innovation holds great potential that could aid in the country’s development. More to this, Kenya is among the African markets that are fast catching up on technology and the developments so far have only brought better prospects for the government and the population.

Patents are also identified by Porter (1998) as other barriers restricting firms’ entry into a market. Fortunately for Safaricom, though the initial innovation was Vodafone’s, the latter had no patenting issues and had in fact come up with the mobile money transfer idea through the encouragement of DFID in order to take innovative banking solutions to developing countries in Africa and other parts of the world (Hughes & Lonie, 2009). This gave Safaricom a free reign and could in turn patent this innovation hence Celtel’s adoption of the same two years after the M-PESA pilot program kicked off.

Supplier power

According to Porters, a firm operating within the producing industry is more prone to influences exerted on it by the suppliers. Such influence can lead to higher costs in raw materials. Being a service oriented product, M-PESA does not suffer from any pressures that could arise from the suppliers. The only contact between the service provider and the customer is the agent, and so far as Omwansa (2009) observes, the relationship between the agents and Safaricom have not suffered any major hiccups.


Safaricom seems to have taken its position as the mobile telephone service provider in a fairly good manner. Gerson Lehrman Group (2010) notes that even taxi drivers know the Safaricom chief executive by name thus suggesting that the company has maintained a close relationship with its clients.

Kenya being a fairly small market, this does not seem like such a hard task to achieve. Omwansa (2009) also notes that the company has managed to engage the media very well and as a result, it has not only kept a constant image in the eyes of the public, but has also made sure that every new development in the company is reported to the public promptly.

By releasing its annual performance statistics Safaricom has endeared itself to the public not only because of its profit making, but also because it has incorporated innovation in its customer service. M-PESA is one such innovation that has indeed improved the company’s share as a market leader as Ombok (2010) notes; “The growth in M-PESA and data markets are the main growth drivers for Safaricom, and will still remain so going forward” (p. 1)


According to Omwansa (2009), M-PESA regulation is something the Kenyan regulators do not seem very eager to do at the moment. However, noting the expansion of M-PESA into different sectors and the links developed between the product and the financial institutions in Kenya, regulation seems like a necessary step.

Apart from regulatory controls however, the money transfer system has instilled control measures that not only ensure the security of money transfer, but also ensure that users stand nothing to loose when using M-PESA. The person identification number (PIN) that one is required to have before carrying out any transaction on the M-PESA platform is one such control. Safaricom encourages the services users not to share the M-PESA pin numbers with anyone because it is the only thing that guarantees security for their money.

Omwansa (2009) also notes that there have been incidences where a person transfers money to a wrong account. When this happens, Safaricom encourages people to call the M-PESA customer care services with the details of the recipient account. The customer service representatives are then able to reverse the money to the sender’s account. However, the money can only be reversed if the recipient had not withdrawn the money already.

Strategies and Tactics

Delving into the strategies adopted by most Kenyan firms is not an easy task especially because such strategies are guarded as business secrets. In Safaricom’s case however, Fan (2009) observes that the company is not only intent at delivering services to the locals, but is also focused in adding the value that consumers receive from its products, while fortifying its brand at the same time.

Quoting Safaricom’s CEO Michael Joseph, Fan (2009) observes that the mobile service provider has made use of the opportunity granted to interact and accompany its clients through the mobile phones.

Among the principles that Safaricom seems to have adopted not only for M-PESA but for other product lines is “think globally, act locally” concept. Like elsewhere in the world, Safaricom understands that its Kenyan clientele needs a combination of good, efficient services at low prices, which it has worked hard to achieve.

The organization has also been consistent in not only its performance but also in strengthening its brand name. Fan (2009) notes that currently, the main Safaricom’s competitor –Zain, has changed its name thrice since its inception in the Kenyan Market. Initially, it was Kencell, then Celtel and now Zain. While this change of name had no significant effect on service provisions, a cautious market like Kenya had its doubts about the sustainability of a brand that keeps changing its name.

Safaricom on the other hand seems to have adopted a naming strategy that resonates with Kenyans thus giving them a sense of pride in the product. Quoting CEO Joseph once again, Fan (2009) observes that Safari is a Swahili name Journey. The PESA on M-PESA is also a Swahili derivative meaning money. As such, the firm is working hard to assure Kenyans that the firm belongs to them, a factor that has been translated to reality by enlisting the firm in the Kenyan Stock Exchange, where locals can buy shares into the company.


Although statistics are not quite clear about M-PESA’s contribution to Safaricom’s profit, the money transfer service is among the key growth drivers as noted elsewhere in this study. The firms CEO was quoted by Fan (2009) stating that the firm had hit the 4.5 million customer mark in 2009 and 7,000 agents through out the country.

Statistics provided in 2009 indicated that peer-to-peer transactions conducted on the M-PESA platform on a daily basis were around Ksh. 160,000 ($2,133). This not withstanding, the amount of profits generated for Safaricom is quite significant considering that the lowest charge for each transaction is Ksh. 20 ($ 0.26). Above the fixed amount that attracts this rate, customers are charged 3.6 percent of the entire amount they are sending or receiving.

Recommendations & Conclusion

Mino (2009) notes that the fact that Vodafone initially developed M-PESA as a peer-to-peer mobile money transfer method has put several limitations to the innovation. For starters, the amount of money that one can deposit in their account or transfer to another person’s account is limited at 35,000Kenyan shillings (approximately $500). This therefore means that merchants who would like to use the service to conduct payments for an amount exceeding the stated limit cannot do so.

Notably, Safaricom does not hold or manage M-PESA operations rights since the M-PESA software is legally a possession of Vodafone. According to Mino (2009), this means that Safaricom, which is on the ground in Kenya, cannot create or distribute supplementary tools which would enable the M-PESA system to consider the interactions needed by merchants in order to conduct their business transactions without any limitations.

Since Kenya is a vibrant developing market, it is only a matter of time that another person notices the opportunity that exists through the needs presented by the merchants. This is especially considering that the deposit limit is too low to many Kenyan businessmen. As such, Safaricom should seize the moment before anyone else does it and expand their deposit limits. This will not only allow merchants to hold huge amounts of money in their M-PESA accounts before transferring it elsewhere, but will also allows Kenyans to carry huger transactions on the M-PESA platform conveniently.

There is also the unending challenge of agents not having enough liquid cash to meet the withdrawal requirements presented to them by M-PESA customers. Safaricom in conjunction with the agents need to find a lasting solution to this problem if indeed the mobile money transfer is to offer wholesome solutions to the financial challenges facing Kenyans.

Overall however, M-PESA has been an innovation that has not only received recognition at home, but also elsewhere in the world. In 2007 and 2008, the innovation won the Kenya Banking awards, while in 2008, it won the GSMA best broadcast commercial, Stockholm Exchange (economic development category) and also won the GSMA best-mobile money service award in 2009.

This however is not to mean that M-PESA is not facing challenges. The good thing however is that the leadership in Safaricom is willing to handle the various challenges through technology and innovation so as to beat the odds and make the product a lasting service in the Kenyan Market and elsewhere in the African continent.


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Gerson Lehrman Group. (2010). MPESA challenges incumbents: the new payments rail in emerging markets. Web.

Hughes, N. & Lonie, S. (2007). M-PESA: Mobile money for the “Unbanked”: Turning Cell phones into 24-hour Tellers in Kenya. Innovations. Winter & Spring, pp. 63-81.

Mas, I. & Morawczynski, O. (2009). Designing Mobile money services: Lessons from M-PESA. Innovations 4(2), 77-91.

Mino, T. (2009). Will the real banks please stand up? Business Daily. Web.

Ombok, E. (2010). Safaricom of Kenya’s profit to rise 21% RenCap says (update 1). Bloomberg Business week. Web.

Omwansa, T. (2009). M-PESA: Progress and Prospects. Innovations/ mobile world Congress 107-122.

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Safaricom. (2009). Key performance statistics. Web.

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