Safaricom recently heeded calls to open up its mobile money platform to developers. The release of the API has been a constant request by the Kenyan tech community. There is a vibrant developer community in Kenya and a good number of tech incubation centres and startups have taken root. Some of the apps they have developed will no doubt plug very well into M-PESA as a mode of payment.
For a long time, telcos have operated with the mindset of walled garden. In order to “keep the customer to ourselves”, we have long resisted the [intuitive] way of unlocking even more value for the customer by partnering with other solution providers who simply want to ride on our networks and connect to the diverse systems that are in our stables. Various reasons have been given for this reluctance and some have been peppered with very noble-sounding reasoning e.g. if we open up our systems, what happens to the privacy of our customers? Rather than think of better ways of managing risks that would occasion such linkages, telcos have simply shut the door. The M-PESA API is aptly named “Daraja”, which is Swahili for “bridge”. It is really time telcos thought more in terms of bridges than walls.
Walled garden mentality will die a natural death. Whereas it has taken Safaricom some time, this is a wise move and one which will benefit not just the Kenyan developer community and end-users but it will most likely benefit Safaricom itself. If subscribers can do more with M-PESA via apps for example, this will lead to more the transactions on the core M-PESA system. Since most of the transactions are charged some commission that goes to Safaricom and its distribution partners, then more transactions translates to better revenues.
There is, after all, some wisdom in the saying: if you want to receive something, you must open your hand.
Who knows, maybe the big risk is not opening up ourselves to possibilities but staying cocooned.