Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Equity Bank positions Equitel as offering most affordable bank to bank money transfer

NOTE: These charges do not reflect 10% excise duty on the transfer fee,
which is levied on all transactions.
Click for a larger image

Equity Bank's money transfer subsidiary, Equitel, has released a tariff charge for transactions on the network.

The bank is positioning Equitel more as a bank to bank money transfer service, and less as a bank to M-Pesa service.

Equity's proposition is that it offers the most affordable means to send money between banks in Kenya.

Charges between Equity Bank accounts remain free, while those to other banks are billed at a maximum of KSh. 60 (after tax) for a maximum of KSh 100,000.

These compares with transfers to M-Pesa which are billed as high as KSh. 135 (exclusive 10% tax) for transfer of KSh. 35,000. Initially, transfers to M-Pesa were billed a maximum KSh. 33, before an increase in the termination rate that M-Pesa bills Equitel to accept transfers from the network. See story here.

Users sending money between Equity accounts are prompted with the name of the account holder before performing the transaction.

Sending  money to M-Pesa sees the users receive a conformation message with the name of the recipient.  Reversals and other M-Pesa incidents are handled on the number 0763063000.

Reversals and issues on interbank transfers will require the sender to visit an Equity Bank branch and fill in forms.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Equitel users silently hit by 100%+ fee increase on transfers to M-Pesa

Users transferring money from Equity Bank’s Equitel Mobile Money platform have been hit by a more than 100% increase in the cost of transferring money from the platform to Safaricom’s M-Pesa. 

M-Pesa is Kenya’s largest mobile money platform, with over 11 million users compared with Equitel’s less than 1 million.

The new charges appear to have been implemented at  the start of August, just as Equitel officially announced it’s transition from a pilot phase. No official communication on the new charges was relayed to Equitel users.

Previously,  Equitel to M-Pesa transfers were charged a uniform KSh. 33 per transaction.  This meant that Equitel to M-Pesa transfers were cheaper than M-Pesa to M-Pesa transfers for amounts above KSh. 1,500.

Below is a select sample of amounts and the new charges,  compared with the old charges.

Amount (KSh)
Equitel to M-Pesa Cost
Old Equitel to M-Pesa fee
M-Pesa to M-Pesa fee

The previous flat fee charged by Equitel made sending money from Equitel to M-Pesa way cheaper for amounts above KSh. 1,500 than doing so from M-Pesa. This made Equitel a more attractive proposition, just as it looked to gain market share, especially from M-Pesa.

The new charges mean it will be cheaper for users to instead withdraw cash from their account over the ATM in batches, deposit that at an M-Pesa agent for free, then take advantage of the lower M-Pesa fees.

This presents a big blow for Equitel’s strategy, given there are more mobile money users on M-Pesa than on Equitel. It further reinforces the network effect, where mobile money users will tend to favour transactions within a platform, than between platforms. 

Such a network effect rewards larger platforms - your friends are likely to be on a larger platform,  hence you are likely to prefer the same - and makes smaller platforms less attractive to new users.

An enquiry to Equitel’s Customer Care says that the new fees were brought about by Safaricom’s increase in “termination fee” - the money Equitel pays Safaricom for money transacted to M-Pesa.

Equity says it's Equitel charges are capped at KSh. 27.50, and that any extra fee here is being levied by Safaricom. Below is a tweet on the same from the bank.

I enquired about the same from Equity Bank’s management, but I was yet to get a response by the typing of this fullstop.

Read on how Equitel works. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Equitel transaction errors. Equity Bank isn't your listening, caring, partner.

Trust me sweetie, no one cares
“I’m typing this with my middle finger,” once stated Idd Salim, a once fearless blogger, who we unfortunately lost to Tuberculosis.

As much as I am pissed, I do not even have the luxury to type this with my middle finger. It’s the Labour Day weekend, which for long I shall remember as a weekend where my bank took the opportunity to show how laborious my relationship with them is.

I have opened the mobile banking application for more than 20 times since yesterday morning. Every time it opens, a splash screen shows Equity Bank’s logo, with the phrase “Your Listening, Caring Partner.”

Every time I see that phrase next to the Equity Bank logo, I fall down laughing. Listen that they might be doing, but caring? Ha ha ha, go tell that to the birds.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Safaricom launches Safaricom Payment Services, Okoa Stima for prepaid electricity

Safaricom Payment Services, the new banker in town? 

M-Pesa is old news. Everyone in the world and their pet knows about M-Pesa. A number of business visitors check in annually just to study M-Pesa. 

While the local tech community has been dusting PowerPoint Presentations stating how M-Pesa and Ushahidi put Kenya on the map, there has been some abrupt movement on the M-Pesa side. Or not. 

For a while, Safaricom has publicly stated that, first, it wanted to move M-Pesa servers from Germany, and second, that it was in the process of moving the same to Kenya. See, while M-Pesa is mature in Kenya, it's still growing up in a number of countries. This means that Vodafone, M-Pesa's owner, is caught in nurturing M-Pesa elsewhere against attending to a grown up M-Pesa in Kenya. 

The move to move (oh, wow, my mother will be so proud of this phrase!) M-Pesa to Kenya thus gives M-Pesa more lee way to expand it's payment services play. 

Unknown to many, in 2014, Safaricom established a committee tasked with looking into the establishment of an M-Pesa Bank. I don't know what happened to this committee, or it's current state. 

It should therefore come as no surprise that Safaricom has now established a unit known as "Safaricom Payment Services". As the name reveals, the unit will be looking into expanding M-Pesa play in financial services.

Safaricom Payment's Services first trick is the launch of a new service known as "Okoa Stima". The service is modelled on "Okoa Jahazi", a service that loans Safaricom customers advance prepaid credit or data bundles, and later reclaims that when they top up. 

Okoa Stima allows electricity utility firm, Kenya Power, customers' to borrow prepaid power units in case they run out of the same and do not have funds to buy the same. Kenya Power has been rolling out prepaid power meters for consumers in Kenya for more than 4 years now. Poor planning or financial difficulties can result in consumers being left in the dark when their units run out. 

The Budget Focus, published in September 2012 by Institute of Economic Affairs (Kenya) estimates the size of Kenya's informal sector at 34.3 percent. The report says the informal sector  accounts for 77 percent of employment . "Over 60% of those working in the informal sector are the youth, aged between 18-35 years, 50% being women (Ouma et al 2009)".

Informal sector employment in Kenya is sometimes informally referred to as hustling. Unlike the Rick Ross type, this hustling usually accounts for irregular income, resulting in periods when the employee has no money and needs to borrow till the next hustle. 

When Kenyans say they are hustling, they don't mean they are hustlin'
like Ross
From this, you can see why Okoa Something products are key in

To access Okoa Stima, all you need to do is dial *885# on your Safaricom Line. 

The process then asks you to accept "Terms and Conditions", then asks for your National ID, and a PIN. The PIN and a conformation message, required to complete the registration process, are then sent by SMS to your phone. 

Once registered, you can then add meter numbers and borrow prepaid units by dialling *885#. 

At the moment of going to press keyboard, it was not clear how many units (or how much in units) that consumers can borrow, and how much it will cost them to repay, nor how they can repay.

Okoa Jahazi is celebrating it's 6th birthday today. 6 years in tech is long enough for Safaricom to have gained experience on loaning of small amounts to Kenyans. Additional experience comes from the mobile savings and credit product - M-Shwari, which Safaricom co-runs with CBA Bank. 

This proves to be an exciting year as we wait to see what other micro-financial services that Safaricom Payment Services will roll out.  It also remains to be seen if Safaricom will roll out a bank, or buy one, or bank the idea - which is likely to attract more regulatory scrutiny as is common for banks. 

The author is a Public Relations and Communications Consultant, a digital and analytics fanatic among other brilliant things. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Safaricom buys M-Ledger making it official Android, iPhone M-Pesa app

M-Pesa in the age of Smartphones in the form
of the official M-Ledger Application.
Sorry geeks, it doesn't feature material design
Last week, Safaricom announced the acquisition of M-Ledger, a smartphone application that helps users back up their M-Pesa transactions.

In addition, M-Ledger performs analytics on your M-Pesa transactions, giving information such as how much you have sent to a contact over a certain period. The app also lets you estimate how much an M-Pesa transaction is likely to cost.

As such, features include:
  • Balance
  • Cost Calculator -  for how much you will be charged for a transaction 
  • List of PayBill - numbers to which you can, uhmm, pay your bills to
  • Bank USSD - numbers you dial to perform M-Pesa transactions between M-Pesa and a bank
  • Buy Goods - Numbers to which you can use when buying from a business using M-Pesa
  • SMS backups of your transactions
  • Your M-Pesa transactions broken down by year
  • Your M-Pesa transactions broken down by person sending or receiving, including PayBill persons and M-Pesa agents deposited to
  • Summary of M-Pesa transactions by type - Airtime to yourself and others, deposits, PayBill, Sent, etc
  • Top 20 - Your, uhmm, top 20 persons by amount sent to or received from (both are seperate) 
  • Backup and Restore -  Online backup (to the cloud) and restoring from the same. In case you have lost your transactions, M-Pesa will give you 6 months of your old transactions.
  • Feedback - Backs up your food Any suggestion or remarks to the wonderful team behind the application
As you can see, the app hosts a good amount of sensitive data on you - one can even tell where you frequent or live by analysing the data here. To keep the same private, one needs a password to access the app.

The purchase of the app serves as a boost for Kenya's startup ecosystem (pardon the cliche). It also heralds a new era with M-Pesa no longer being just a dumb SMS application, but now starting to take advantage of the endless possibilities provided by smartphones. (pardon the cliches, again). 

I also sat down with Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore, was kind enough to provide extra details on the application by email. 

Here's what he had to type :-) 

  • How much did Safaricom buy Mledger for? – Safaricom acquired the IP for the M-Ledger app at an amount that we are unable to disclose at this time due to the nature of our agreement with Dynamic Data.
  • I see statements are now available for 6 months, up from 3 months. Will the duration be extended over time? – We shall, periodically, update the functionalities available on the app and enhancing the ability to retrieve statements for longer periods will be an area where we will explore.
  • When will the app be available on iOS – Soon. Work is already in progress to bring M-Ledger to iPhone and Windows phones.  
  • What other features are planned? -  We are constantly working on updates to the application and will be releasing them via Safaricom Appstore and Google Play. Subscribers can opt to automatically receive these updates as they occur by changing the settings on their phones to receive automatic updates.
At this point, it is not clear if Safaricom used M-Pesa to buy the company behind M-Ledger.
What features do you wish M-Pesa had?

Do you wish M-Pesa had an application on Android or iPhones from where you could perform your transactions?

Get the Android app on the Play Store. 

The iPhone app is still currently in the works, but confirmed as available soon.

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Unofficial: Equitel Thin SIMs to be in Kenya by end of 2014

Equity Bank has been issuing SIM cards for it's Equitel Mobile Banking service. Having promised to issue Thin SIM- a SIM card that can be stuck on top of a standard SIM, such that both can be used at the same time - users have been waiting for the bank to roll out the same. 
(Click link to read: How does Equitel Work)

Most Kenyans are on Safaricom, with over 80% of phone calls made on Safaricom. While a good number of Equity Bank's clients are ready to try Equitel, the challenge has been the need to swap SIM cards in order to use the Equitel SIM. The Thin SIm is meant to solve the problem. 

The Thin SIM, however, has been plagued with a number of challenges from competition, including challenges in parliament, at the Communications Authority and a number of court cases. So far, a number of hurdles have been cleared, bar for some court cases. This have stopped the bank from importing the Thin SIMS. 

The statement below on when Thin SIMs will be in the country was posted on the Internet by what appears to be an employee of the bank. It's reproduced verbatim:

Equity Baank has not yet issued the thin SIM. Though we should expect them anytime before and hopefully closure of year. Equity bank could not proceed to pre-order the thin SIM when their was some issues pending determination by some govt arm's. As we maybe aware Equity bank was last month given the go ahead to roll out the thin SIM card for a period of one year within which the same will act as a pilot period.
As we wait for the thin SIM card Equity has been issuing to her customers with active accounts with the normal SIM card.The prefix is "0763" and the network name is known as "Equitell".Iam a holder of the Equitell line. Walk to any Equity bank branch and you will be issued for free. Consider opening an account with Equity bank to have the chance to get for yourself the SIM card for free. 
Remember the normal SIM card is only being issued for a temporary period awaiting the thin SIM. Another key point. You have the chance to retain the numbers of your current line but replace the prefix with Equitell's prefix.
Update: A news report says Equitel launch date has been moved to within the first three months of 2015. 

Thanks for reading, as usual, any questions come below. Like this page on Facebook to keep up with awesome articles. Also, you can find me on Twitter, where I sometimes discuss useful stuff, but not always :-)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How I came to love Google Inbox

The 7 categories in Inbox in addition to
your main inbox
About a month ago, Google launched a new email service called Inbox.

Some people have claimed Inbox is the best thing since sliced bread, while others do not get the whole point about Inbox.

Some, like me, have fallen in between one time or another.

A brief introduction

When Inbox was announced, I was among the lucky few to make it past Google's Invite System. With the app already available on the App store and already downloaded to my phone, all was left was for me to activate and start using it.

I hated it.

It reminded me of that time Gmail rolled out "Priority inbox" , service that tried to sort your email. It worked for some, but it wrecked havoc on my mail by redirecting important emails to non-important labels, hence resulting in me missing them.

I'm very sensitive about my email applications, seeing that I receive more than 10 emails daily from various sources. A good number of them are automatically sent from computers, others from mailing lists, which are online discussion groups, and a few personal ones.

All my work email is handled from my Gmail, no point in having different applications serving the same purpose.

I have found BlackBerry Email, which a number of people will swear is the gold standard for email, to be unusable. The fact that BlackBerry handles each email response as a separate email, rather than part of the original email, means you will be receiving 50 to 100 emails up from 10. Pure havoc.

So you can see my email problem.

2,200 Unread

A few minutes after starting from 2,200 unread
In fact, my email problem had ballooned to the point I had 2,200 unread emails in my inbox. A good portion of this had accumulated when I was trying out a BlackBerry and a number of times when I also tried out Windows Phone.

This was before a Windows Phone app called Metro Mail turned up on the Windows Phone Store. Even then, Metro Mail was still a new app and had a little catching up to do. Google has refused to release a Gmail app for Windows Phone.

I therefore really hated any email application that mixed up my emails, or tore them apart, meaning I had to spend hours sorting my email.

Google Inbox looked like something that sorted out your emails into different categories, giving you the extra redundant task of sorting the same out. I later found out was wrong.

I deleted Google Inbox.

The often travelled road to 0 Unread

But that was not the end. 2 weeks ago, I decided to give Inbox a second chance. I mean, people everyone, including applications, deserve a second chances, right?

A few hours later about 40 emails were
now read
This time round, I decided to carefully look at the 7 categories in Google Inbox. I carefully went through my email, ensuring that my personal email was in my main inbox.

I was surprised. All my emails were in the right place. Emails addressed directly to me landed in my main Inbox inbox :-), and not anywhere else

The only issue was that a few(less than 5) of the old mails had landed in one of the 7 categories, rather than the other one. This could be corrected by selecting the email and indicating that future emails of this type should head to the other category.

Over a few hours of use, I found that for once, I could focus on my personal emails, and deal with other email, such as my newsletter from The Economist, later when I had time!

Additionally, if I did not feel like handling a mail now, I could "snooze" it and it would disappear from my unread emails till a later date, when I wanted it back! Or if I needed to do have a task on a later date, based on my email, I could snooze it till then!

Thus, an email that needed hours dealing with, typically those in the non-personal category, could be left there until when I had time, say, after work, or over the weekend!

The modern, digital, Personal Assistant

A day later, more than 300 emails were gone.
I was now reading emails faster than they
were coming in, a vast improvement!
See what I'm getting at? Google Inbox acts like a digital Personal Assistant, who sorts out your email into different day, depending on the source and how it's addressed.

Additionally, you only get notifications for emails that are of personal nature. So no more of your phone beeping only to find that it's another Facebook Message inviting you to play Candy Crush, or Words with Friends!

Quite useful, huh?

Over a course of 2 weeks, I was finally able to sift through my emails, and now have a mere 700 unread emails, down from a whopping 2,200! (see, @coldtusker, I have now learned to use whopping, instead of whooping).

At this point in time, I have even disabled the Gmail app and rely on the Inbox app.

Downside here is that the new Gmail app is more beautiful and looks better than the Inbox app. If you are however in danger of being overwhelmed by your emails, the Inbox app is more useful.

You do need a Gmail account to start using Inbox at the moment. You also need an invite, which can be received by requesting for one from the email address inbox@google.com

Those already on Inbox can also invite you.

Any queries or remarks, welcome to the comments section below. Hit me in the comments for an invite. Do not leave your email address in the comments!

6 days later, 200 emails were gone. 
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