And the Best Business Innovation Award 2019 goes to…

By David Wanjala

Safaricom, like Amazon, the multinational technology company focusing on e-commerce, has become an empire. If not yet, it is headed there.

Some day in December last year Safaricom’s M-Pesa service crashed for a few hours and life almost stopped in Kenya. Cars got stranded at petrol stations, supermarkets tills got jammed and they could sell no more, online banking transactions ceased, bills in a cross section of services could not be paid.

Imagine a scenario where Safaricom’s services across the board crashed and remained so for a week. What would become of you as an individual, leave alone Kenya as a whole?

The mobile service provider has, through ingenuity over the years grown into a giant it has become, more so by staying a dozen steps ahead of its competitors in innovation. True, some of its products, like the digital TV box, have failed to pick up. This however only goes to prove that Safaricom’s stellar rise is not magical but human, through hard work and resilience.

Its latest invention, an overdraft facility dubbed Fuliza, will outshine any others in the sector for the entire period of 2019. It is still early in the year, but you could, without any fear of disapproval vote Fuliza for the Best Invention of the Year Award 2019.

Fuliza is an M-Pesa facility that advances credit, allowing users with inadequate funds to make purchases or pay utility bills and repay within 30 days at a fee. The mobile service provider lent out more than Sh1 billion within a week of its going live and got a million customers by day eight according to its CEO, Bob Colly. You do not come across such statistics in business more often.

The technocrats at Safaricom must have looked at the mess the interest rates capping law has put the economy in and committed to exploit the gap left by commercial banks that have shunned the so called high risk Kenyans.

As at end of first quarter 2018, M-Pesa had a total of 24 million active subscriptions, 576 million transactions with a value of Sh1.6 trillion according to the latest statistics by Communications Authority of Kenya. It is possible that, with proper marketing, and no one beats Safaricom at that, the number of Fuliza customers could rise to 10 million by end of first quarter of 2019. If the mobile service provider were to make a mere Sh100 per month on each of the 10 million customers, it would amount to Sh1 billion every month in profits and that is looking at it reservedly. Not every other company in this part of the world enjoys such prospects.

But as I said afore, it doesn’t come easy. It comes from sheer hard work. You need to look at the timing of the launch – January, to appreciate the ingenuity of the telco’s think tank.

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