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I am among the lucky few.. in fact am the only lucky African to have been involved in the early stages of mobile money transfer in Kenya way back in 2005. I get to see things differently in the mobile money sphere. I have two comparisons when it comes to Mobile Money Transfer.. let me be clear. I am an advocate of mobile money transfer, not mobile payments not financial services.. Mobile Money Transfer..if you chose to put it under financial services, no fights, if you choose to classify it under mobile payments no problem I understand fully. Mobile Money Transfer and especially M-PESA kicked a revolution. For M-PESA we climbed the ladder from down going up.. we started with the basic  “Send Money Home”. We made people understand that cash had changed its name to “float”. Kenyans have a way of making their own english. Most shops in Kenya now sell a commodity called “float” not electronic value:) some shops also sell “hakuna ” meaning nothing..this is how the conversation in the village shop goes  ” Uko na float” meaning do you have e-lectronic value and there is no doubt that it is M-PESA float. and the agent will say ” iko”( i have) or “Hakuna” meaning we dont have. Despite selling hakuna and float..  the common man knows what this convinience can do  and has done for is a way of life.. “float ” is everything. Where did this word come from?? Float… am still floating… now let me take you 5 countries away and we land in the land of yams. Here we are climbing the ladder from up to down. The developers instead of developing a system that starts with the basics and goes up have done what they think is clever… they have developed what we call in East Africa” mchanganyiko maalum” meaning mixed grill.Take Mobile Money Transfer and baptise it to Mobile Payments .. and put another name of Financial services, etc..and what are you left with.. a mixture of right intentions done the wrong way. Mobile Money Transfer has been taken too seriously with no careful thought here in West Africa. You cannot bring all forms of Technology to a country that is known to value cash.. sometimes i think the companies are targeting the expatriates who need to pay bills and not the unbanked and underbanked Nigerian. In my opinion all the systems are good..integrating everything into one platform at once.But sometimes too much of everything is dangerous. Are we greedy? Are we lost? are we overambitious? but the biggest question is .. are we really bringing financial Inclusion to the unbanked and underbanked? Something does not feel right here in West Africa… Something is wrong.. the Agency hierarchies are wrong….the biggest success factor is wrong..  will they listen???
yours truly Cathy– committed to financial inclusion of unbanked and under banked people.

The Nigerian Java and USSD nightmare

We are all singing the national Anthem of “financial Inclusion for all unbanked and underbanked” but do we know how to achieve this. How is the rural woman who is semi illiterate going to remember shortcodes… for this service dial *8787* for the other *9798* for balance *66453* what do we really want to achieve? We are all copying M-PESA, and trying to be the next success by using vague short cuts.  The other day, i needed to register for a service here in lagos for mobile money transfer, i went through a brochure and found a list of low end phones that were compatible with java according to the solution provider. I tried downloading the java version …nothing,, i went back to the person who sold me the phone and you can imagine the amt of time and insults that ensued before i could trade my phone with yet another java enabled low end nokia that i was promised was compatible,…to cut the long story short, i had to download the Java app on the laptop first then connect my nokia to the laptop to get the app. Now how is this service bringing financial inclusion to the unbanked? who we know do not even have the nokia phone but china twin sim low end phone. I have come to a conclusion that most of us working at bringing financial inclusion to the unbanked…either have an elephant sized ego or turning a blind eye to the real truths or they are too dumb to understand the real issue.

Today its rant and rave here 🙂 am just tired of people getting it wrong and not retracing the steps…am tired of seeing crappy applications, am tired of wrongly funded projects, am tired of M-PESA agents suffering and nobody listening, am tired of this whole circus…  Am just proud I was integral in development and success of M-PESA, as a newcomer…what success are you making? What will be your history?

Its time as a developer of mobile payment pay a visit to ICeni Mobile who developed M-PESA, they will give you a better understanding of what you need to do. I will keep mentioning ICeni mobile until you give me another success story….then i can stop singing ICEni *100000000. ICeni am proud you taught me right:) Thank you L-A and Andy et al


I have very fond memories of M-PESA baby moments, when the baby was in mini diapers of  pilot, and the real care takers including the mother and father handled everything with care, The baby could not whimper without everyone in the house jumping up and down incase anything went wrong.

This was the Family Tree, Susie Lonie, and Nick Hughes from the Vodafone Grooms family, then Brides Sagentia family  with Tim Murdoch, Lesley-Ann Vaughan, Andy Measures, Warren Carew, Chris Bowley, Antony Lawal, Liz Galpin… These are the people that come into my mind because of the day to day interactions we had then.

The bride entered into a marriage that saw the bride bear a child, nobody believed that this child could even walk, child was born and  named M-PESA. At first I heard of this baby while on night shift and like the normal Value added services, Safaricom HR personnel- Marilyn came and quickly gave us a training on this new service. It never hit any of us and for a moment we were happy not to take calls for a few hours( i was in the call center then and after four years singing” thank you for calling safaricom customer care”… i almost sounded like an automated robot”

We got this new Head of Department who was soo cool compared to the previous one..I was not fond of the previous one and just coped( then i didnt know the meaning of..never blame your boss steer your life your way) . This cool HOD came with changes that were the best at the time… He was our saviour then and we loved him to bits.

The HOD proposed a split in Customer care sections and one section “additional Services” he clearly said that this was not a promotion but a movement to support Additional services.

I applied and was more than excited to move away from customer cries call center to this cool call center where i was just handling directory services and Sim replacements.. it was bliss even though no promotion..

Then the baby that was now ready to come to Africa arrived. And had to be moved to a nursery school called Faulu Kenya. The bride and the groom in UK( i only used to hear of UK and see the queen on TV) would visit the baby once in a while in Kenya.

The Nursery training of M-PESA baby at Faulu Kenya went well and the baby was initially intended to be sent to only collect and pay loans for Faulu Family but the Faulu family devised other ways of using the now grown baby. They used her not only to pay and recieve loans…they started using her to send money to each other  and buy Safaricom airtime.

By then due to the faulu family clever ways of use of the baby…  Additional services started recieving complaints from the baby malfunction, Faulu family complaints and this enabled  the Cambridge Sagentia daddy ( Tim) and the Vodafone Mommy( Launch) to come up with ” launch proposal of send money home”

By then I had gotten the name of Mama Mapesa and everyone Knew me as Catherine M-PESA. All the while the only strange people I interacted with were Susie and L-Ann Vaughan and Any measures and would see Tim Murdoch and Warren carew in the many mails that were necessary.

Pilot was a success… the baby had done its job well enough to deserve graduation from nursery to the next level.

By then my relationship with the M-PESA mommy  – Susie Lonie were on a high and she quickly had me moved from the call centre to the prestigious Safaricom Head office. Miracle – I called it because it was the hardest thing ever to get out of the call centre..i was the envy of many.
To cut the long story short I was previledged to close the successful pilot and start on the launch preparations. My desk always drew curiosity because of the number of handsets that were on action.

Sagentia team( now Iceni Mobile)  were the best I have seen to date. Believe it or not most of the handsets were set up online…thank you MSN messenger.

We finally launched and what stress followed…..Battling Agents, Customers , Roadshows, I cant remember having lunch or dinner in those years…

If you had to have lunch it had to be served on your desk, many are the days when Pauline Vaughan left the office at 1.00am.. and she would walk past my desk and ask ” Cathy you are still here ?” and  because I loved M-PESA there is nothing I would not have done to get things working.

Resource was scarce, but we worked hard and soon we had everyone talking about M-PESA and other aspirants claiming that they brought M-PESA to Safaricom. They didnt even know that the same time we were launching in Kenya…we were training the team for Afghanistan M-PAISA.

I know the truth about M-PESA and it was  a sad time to leave, but the baby was now an adult who could handle millions of transactions at a go.

And right there Susie Lonie, Nick Hughes, Lesley-Ann Vaughan, Andy Measures, Warren Carew, Tim Murdoch, Antony Lawal, Nick Hammond, Liz Galpin, Pauline Vaughan, Rita Mwachandi, Walter Andayi, Peris Gachigua and I watched history unfold.

The scramble continues….. At Red Ant International..we are going forward with the vision…to Train people on how to make another success around the world.

Another day is here …..Financial Inclusion for all


Mobile Money Transfer  is supposed to be a noble initiative aimed at unbanked populace around the world… but it has turned into a confusion nightmare due to the financial success attributed to M-PESA. There is a mad rush in all directions of Vendors, Banks and Conferences sprouting left right and center.

What many fail to understand is that success of any MMT does not come out of a greedy rush. If you want to deal with unbanked people you have to reason like them.. and ask yourself why did they stay un banked all these years??? and what do they want.

I have had the privileged of interacting with vendors in my many mobile money events and sometimes I wonder who advised the system architects? Is it  about pleasing the boss with the most sophisticated mobile application ? or just making sure that the funding is eaten and finished in the process?

You wonder!

When will the people understand what the unbanked and underbanked person wants? This person just wants to do the following :
  • Register with minimal hassles
  • Transact at the lowest / affordable fees possible
  • Access their stored value with ease.
  • Contact customer Care with ease( both agents and customers)
But what are we busy designing for them?  

If we all started by understanding what the unbanked and underbanked really want…we would have less change requests ( that cost money)  and we will attain financial inclusion faster.

Mobile Money Transfer is not Mobile Banking… Mobile money transfer is mobile phone – mobile payment platform and another mobile phone…

Let us take time to understand mobile money transfer the way ICeni mobile and Equity Bank Kenya understand it… and everyone will b able to fit their financial aspirations around it

Despite all  the invasion by mobile money Quacks…. we shall get there!

Is financial Inclusion Funding going into Banking the unbanked???

For a long time I have campaigned for the rights of the Mobile Money Transfer Agents especially in Kenya…because I walked with them from the beginning. Nobody cares so far… all i hear is many product getting sponsorship left right and center…. and after they get the products in the market they expect the same electronic value that was in the market to suffice..get it right …Donors and Developers, MNO’s, Banks and all of you who want to get into this market that AGENTS NEED HELP !  a simple loan of kes 20000 per agent would go a long way in making a difference in the financial inclusion dream. When will Agents be remembered???

Financial Inclusion or Financial Confusion

Lets not confuse financial inclusion! Growing up in the village with a Primary school teacher for a mother… we always could tell when end month had arrived. My mother would report to school early, ask for permission to go and collect her salary from Meru town( a 30 minutes drive). Thats the day we knew goodies would come in. My mother had some form of banking….. and this form is what i call Under banked. She could only access her cash by taking a public bus, queing for hours in order to get her hard earned cash. A very good example of an underbanked person. Is she poor… No! being underbanked does not mean poverty. Neither does unbanked ! Stop referring to unbanked and underbanked people as poor. Poor people have no money to save.    Who is unbanked? in my context all the village farmers had plenty of farm produce to sell every market day. Where did they put their savings? In a tin dug underground…. literally the true mattress millionaires.  

That is the reason why M-PESA was a welcome relief. My first roadshow showcasing M-PESA left the organisers of the event shocked… we went to the people with the slogan ” Register for M-PESA for FREE…get a Pen, Deposit some money and get a TShirt, Send some Money and get a Cap… do all three and get all three for free” I saw market women with huge bundles of up to 30000 kenya shillings.  Are these women poor? no …they just didnt know where else to hide their market sales. And the Nokia 1100 did the magic for them.

During my work in M-PESA from Pilot to Launch to Post Launch…i cannot remember when i sat down to enjoy a dinner or lunch. It was passion Passion and Passion. That is what new mobile payments projects of today lack… its all about who gets what! lets not lie to ourselves. Its that big position, sharing those profits like for M-PESA and so on..little do they know ……

In this Financial Inclusion we truly understand how we can bring financial inclusion to people… through Mobile phones, or other technologies? Different countries, different entities have interpreted financial inclusion in their own terms..but the only people that truly understand the meaning of financial inclusion are the Equity Bank Kenya People. The entire team has been steered in the right direction by the CEO and now understands how to develop and grow by financially including people in the right way without all the corporate bullshit.

Equity Bank has seen the light in the growth of Mobile Money transfer, Cash transfer and all this time tapping into the unbanked and underbanked and the success story is far from over. Equity is the good example of Financial inclusion. The rest of the gimmicks by corporates is like noise to my ears!  Instead of banks tapping into the mattress millionaires through clever tactics like Equity Bank, they extend the boardroom bullshit into hiring wannabe Mobile Payment clown who structure hogwash platforms and systems that are not targetted tto the unbanked or underbanked…and you never get to hear of the said mobile payment systems.

Lets not convince ourselves that Mobile Banking is the same as Mobile money Transfer. Mobile Banking is for the already banked people…how can you bank if you are unbanked…if sometimes we listened to ourselves making the boardroom decisions:)  then we could come up with excellent ideas to reach the unbanked. If for a moment we left the airconditioned boardrooms and tried to understand the real meaning of financially including the unbanked.. but do we? we sit hurdled in our boardrooms and bullshit..come up with wrong ideas and go to the market with the same bullshit.

Clear example is Central Bank of Nigeria licensing USSD platforms to roll out mobile money transfer! can someone tell CBN that they are in Nigeria and that USSD can be hacked into anytime of the day… Telco engineers manning the USSD gateway are able to view the details of the txns and the PINs… whats the use ? in the next few months cases of Fraud will rocket.. Then??? we start the song afresh

Truly this is Africa…. in my own opinion