May 1, 2018 / 7:40 PM / 2 months ago

Safaricom pilots messaging app linked to mobile money

NAIROBI, May 1 (Reuters) - Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest telecoms company, is piloting a social messaging app that will link to its mobile money platform in an attempt to move the company into the application business, the company said on Tuesday.

Bonga, which means chat in Kiswahili, will be integrated with the company’s popular financial services platform M-Pesa to allow the almost 28 million of its users to communicate beyond sending money to one another, transforming the platform into a type of social network.

“It’s one thing to share information with somebody it’s another thing to make a payment, to send money to somebody,” Kamal Bhattacharya, chief innovation officer at Safaricom, said in a telephone interview. “We want to use this platform to make it much easier ... for people to engage.”

Bhattacharya said that M-Pesa users will be able to message each other on Bonga in three ways: user-to-user, user-to-business and fundraising through “social groups” much like the group function on WhatsApp.

Bonga is the first product launched by the company’s innovation incubator Alpha.

Safaricom is piloting Bonga with it’s staff before planning to launch later this year.

Bhattacharya said the platform will be end-to-end encrypted. “We cannot read the messages, we cannot keep the messages,” he said.

Kenya does not have data privacy laws.

Safaricom is 35 percent owned by South African group Vodacom and 5 percent by Vodacom’s major shareholder Vodafone.

With nearly 30 million users, the company has 69 percent of Kenya’s total mobile phone subscribers.

The introduction of Bonga is part of the company’s strategy to boost revenue and add value to its consumers beyond its offerings of voice calls, mobile money and text messages. Last year it launched Masoko, an e-commerce platform.

It’s first-half revenue announced in November showed that revenue from M-Pesa rose 16 percent, while revenue from phone calls rose by far less - only 4 percent. Mobile internet service revenue rose by nearly a third.

“Our future is to become a platform that enables business in Kenya as well as our consumers to do their work in a different way,” Bhattacharya said. “Messenger platforms are the most popular apps, the most popular approach on the internet today to bring people together.” ($1 = 100.3000 Kenyan shillings) (Reporting by Maggie Fick; Writing by Omar Mohammed, editing by David Evans)

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