Equity issuing free Equitel SIM cards to customers

Pedestrians walk past an Equity Bank branch. The bank is issuing ordinary SIM cards for telecommunication and mobile banking services.  PHOTO | FILE
Pedestrians walk past an Equity Bank branch. The bank is issuing ordinary SIM cards for telecommunication and mobile banking services. PHOTO | FILE 

Equity Bank has started issuing ordinary SIM cards for telecommunication and mobile banking services to its 8.7 million customers across the country, even as another lawsuit was filed on Tuesday to block its intended launch of the controversial thin-SIM technology.

Equity customers on Tuesday queued at the lender’s banking halls to pick and register for the SIM cards, which were being issued for free.

Non-Equity account holders were however required to open new bank accounts while those with dormant accounts were asked to pay Sh200 before re-activation and being issued with the SIM cards.

Operating on prefix 0763 and Equitel as the brand name, the SIM cards are mobile banking and voice service enabled.

“Almost all of our customers who come here for different reasons walk out with the Equitel SIM cards, the message has also spread through word of mouth and we have seen quite a number of customers who had dormant accounts re-activating them,” said an Equity Bank employees in one of the city centre branches who however could not be quoted as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The bank had not responded to our queries by the time of going to press.

Through its subsidiary, Finserve, Equity Bank obtained a licence from the telecommunications regulator to roll out a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service riding on the Airtel infrastructure.

The Communications Authority of Kenya also authorised Equity to roll out the thin SIM technology which involves using ultra-thin SIM cards that are embedded on ordinary SIMs.

The lender has however not yet issued the thin-SIMs, which were opposed by leading telecommunications firm Safaricom on grounds that they posed a risk of data theft and cyber-attacks for its customers.

Equity Bank account holders will access their accounts through mobile handsets and transfer money to customers subscribed to other mobile cash services such as M-Pesa, Airtel and Orange Money.

A user can also transfer any amount from the Equity Bank account to other commercial bank accounts, pay bills or use it to buy goods and services.

Equitel customers can only top up their airtime by purchasing credit from their Equity Bank accounts or Equity agents— a move that is set to help the firm cut costs associated with printing and distribution of scratch cards. 

Customers also have an option to port their current mobile numbers, which would see them migrate to Equitel without losing their old contact digits.

Equitel’s customer care service attendants on Tuesday declined to reveal calling charges on the bank’s MVNO service, but unconfirmed reports indicated that calls within the network will cost Sh3 per minute while calls to rival networks will cost Sh4.

Safaricom charges Sh4 per minute for calls within and those headed to the rival networks. Orange charges Sh2 within the network and Sh3 to calls placed to either Safaricom, Airtel or yuMobile. Airtel charges Sh3 for calls within the network and Sh4.20 for calls to other networks.

On Tuesday a data specialist went to court to challenge the one-year trial period granted by Communications Authority, claiming it could expose customers to possible transmission of personal data to third parties.

Bernard Murage moved to the High Court seeking to block the roll out of the mobile banking service, arguing that the bank has not given any assurance to its clients on the safety of the thin SIM technology.

“In the absence of data protection laws in Kenya I have no redress if there is intrusion of my privacy through the thin SIM technology,” said Mr Murage.

Mr Murage’s suit is the second petition challenging Equity’s thin SIM technology. The Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) in June sought to cancel the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) licence granted to the bank, arguing that CAK did not follow the right procedure in issuing the licence to Finserve Africa Ltd.