The service dubbed Bonga (Swahili word for Chat) will be integrated with M-Pesa to allow the subscribers 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.”
The company has said it is piloting Bonga with its 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.
Safaricom is 35 per cent owned by South African group Vodacom and 5 per cent by Vodacom’s major shareholder Vodafone.
With nearly 30 million users, the company has 69 per cent of Kenya’s total mobile phone subscribers.
Three new features
This means, Mr Bhattacharya explained 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.
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 per cent, while revenue from phone calls rose by far less – only 4 per cent. 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.”