In my earlier post on mobile payments, I asked Latiff Cherono to weigh in on the impact mobile payments have made in daily life in Kenya.
His thoughts are below
The “Real” Mobile Revolution
Mention “mobile money” and Africa to someone and you will likely hear “mPesa” in the reply. Much has been said about the revolutionary product, but until you witness it on the ground, it is hard for someone in the west to fathom how much of a game changer it is.
I grew up in Kenya in the eighties and early 90’s when access to technology was a luxury available to the select few. A measure of how successful a middle class family was not if you owned a car, but whether you had a landline phone at your phone. I left Kenya in 1995 to attend Engineering school in US Midwest. After graduation I worked as Process Engineer in the Automotive and Electronic manufacturing sectors for 10 years.
I witnessed the evolution of the internet boom, the peak of the PC age and the start of the connected mobile age with smartphones and later tablets. Though these changes were remarkable, they still appeared evolutionary. In 2011, I made the decision to move back to Africa, predicated on a need to improve personal growth. I have always considered myself to be an early adopter, keeping up with tech trends. Armed with the latest smartphones and gadgets I thought I was well prepared to school my Kenyan friends on technology. What I encountered on my arrival back into Nairobi completely changed my thinking on the power of technology.
As I drove from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport towards the City of Nairobi, I encountered the telltale signs of economic development: New construction had changed the landscape that I couldn’t recognize landmarks from my child hood, thongs of people all along the highway engaged in little business (one selling used clothing, the next selling soft drinks and snacks). Though I expected improvement, I wasn’t ready for the scale of change. We were then caught up in a massive traffic jam. Cars, busses and trucks were everywhere. In my childhood, automobile ownership was exclusive to the very rich, but now even the average professional was driving. How was this possible? My cab driver explained that buying a vehicle in Kenya, even with the 70% tax was within the reach of many more Kenyans. Paying close attention to people along the highway, I noticed many were on their mobile phones (dumb phones, we called them back in the States. “Smartphones haven’t made it to Kenya yet” I theorized.
As we sat in the traffic jam, a man pulling a hand cart laden with goods pulled up alongside us, controlling his cart deftly with one hand, and texting with his free hand. This in itself was a remarkable feat, as the cart must have had at least 500 pounds of market produce on it. However, what struck me as odd was that this cart pusher earned less than $10 on a good day, yet he had the time to chat? I asked my Cab driver how this was possible. The answer blew my mind. The cell phone was key to Hand Cart owners business. He used it to schedule deliveries with his customers and most importantly, receive payments. This means that hand cart owner could scale his business easily. I immediately understood the impact of Mobile Money. This “Third World” country had successfully created a solution that delivered transformative financial power to its entire public. A solution which did not need the latest gadgetry, was available on all platforms and elegantly simple. I smiled knowing that I was the one who would be schooled by the Real Mobile Revolution.
In 2014 Kenyans moved KES 6.4 Billion, U$ 69.5 Million per day in mobile money. This includes Peer to Peer transactions (whether informal business like the handcart owner, or personal transactions like sending money to a loved one), Peer to Business (purchasing goods from a supermarket or service provider) and Business to Business.
Latiff Cherono is a Lean Consultant (Nairobi, Kenya and Pietermaritzburg, South Africa)
Training Leadership Consulting TLC