Meet the man serving Kenyans with free mobile money transactions

Meet the man serving Kenyans with free mobile money transactions

Tekwane Mwendwa is the founder and current operations manager at Asilimia Kenya, an application freeing up fees on all mobile money transactions.

The story of Asilimia – translated to percentage in English — goes two years back and the platform has now been up and running for about one year.

The app is built over existing mobile money infrastructure and currently serves subscribers to Safaricom’s mobile money service M-Pesa.

“Every Kenyan has had that experience of an insufficient funds to complete a transaction. A lot of emotion is also involved and most of us are familiar with the Kenyan semantics of ‘Na unitumie na ya kutoa’ (Send the cash with a top up to facilitate the withdrawal),” Mr Mwendwa told Citizen Digital in an interview on June 5.

“For me this was very personal. While some may take transactions amounts for granted, realized savings makes a big difference for others. Most people have been slow to adopt to mobile money because of costs.”

Mwendwa stops short of defining Asilimia as a mobile money company but rather sees it as a complementary service.

“We are like what Netflix is to entertainment or what Uber is to the taxi business in Kenya. We are the Amazon of mobile money. Uber is not a transport company while Amazon is not a bookshop but sells books,” he added.

“We are not competition to telcos but rather complement what they offer. It’s like an accessory… say a mouse to a laptop. You can’t buy the mouse and say you don’t need the computer.”

Deploying Asilimia requires one to install the application and pay off a monthly one off charge of about Ksh.150 to enjoy the zero rates mobile money transactions.

While Mwendwa says the idea is easy to grasp, selling the alternative business model has been no walk on the park as many find the idea preposterous.

“When one meets a person saying they will walk on water, the conversation likely ends there.”

However, Mwendwa says the future of mobile money will bring along the zero-rating on fees with Asilimia being the first to move ahead of everybody else.

So far, the start-up has immersed atleast 10,000 individual users and has processed over Ksh.106.1 million ($1 million) transactions.

Meanwhile, the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic has brought up an unexpected experiment on what zero-rated mobile money transaction would mean on a grand scale.

On March 16, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) directed telco operators and payment service providers (PSPs) to waiver all charges on mobile money transactions of up to Ksh.1000 while scrapping fees on transfers in between bank accounts and mobile wallets.

This in a means to encourage the use of digital cash over actual fiat money in a bid to curb the spread of the virus in the country.

Subsequently, mobile money transactions have increased by volume and values to indicate success of drawing in more Kenyans to the platforms by zero rating fees.

For instance, transactions between Ksh.101 and Ksh.500 have jumped to 2.1 million daily from 1.2 million previously while those between Ksh.501 and Ksh.1000 have risen by an average 692,385 following the emergency measures to 1.4 million.

The value of the transactions has meanwhile increased by Ksh.235.6 million and Ksh.697.5 million to an average of Ksh.621.4 million and Ksh.1.2 billion respectively.

“This confirms that the waiver of fees for up to Ksh.1000 encouraged more mobile money transactions,” noted the CBK.

Mobile money transactions have continued to feature in prominence among Kenyans having risen by an average 7 times in both value and volumes between December 2009 and March this year.

Zero-rated transactions will nevertheless represent revenue losses to mobile-money firms with Safaricom for instance projecting a Ksh.5.5 billion revenue loss in three months from the waiver of fees on transactions up to Ksh.1000.

Asilimia meanwhile sees its future beyond zero-rating mobile money fees as it now eyes a disruption in the digital lending sphere to address current inefficiencies in the nascent industry.|