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Technology

Philippines pulls the plug on Kenya’s BebaPay card

Google’s BebaPay cards has been withdrawn from the Philippines after barely six months of use, marking a hiccup for the Kenyan-born tech innovation’s ambition to go global like M-Pesa and Ushahidi.

The company has announced that the BebaPay prepaid card will be discontinued in Manila from Thursday, the first and only country outside Kenya where it has been employed since last September.

Google had partnered with the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) to pilot the use of the card at De La Salle University in Manila, where students paid for food and purchases at the bookstore and photocopying stations using the card.

In Kenya, BebaPay is powered by Equity Bank and is used as a cashless payment system in matatus where the government has gazetted regulations outlawing use of cash for bus fare payments starting July 2014.

BPI pulled the plug on the product and immediately announced cardholders would be issued with MasterCard-powered prepaid cards and their balances transferred to the new platform.

“BPI and Google have jointly decided to discontinue the BebaPay project in the Philippines,” De La Salle University said in a notice to students.

“Bank of the Philippines Islands, issuer of the BebaPay card, is offering the BPI My ePrepaid MasterCard to BebaPay cardholders for free.”

The new MasterCard issued by BPI is near field communications (NFC)-enabled and allows contactless payments just like BebaPay. Google Kenya declined to comment on the BebaPay termination, but said the tech firm will concentrate on consolidating the card’s market in Kenya.

“We’ve decided that we need to pursue BebaPay in just one country and Kenya, as the more established country of operation for BebaPay, was chosen to continue,” said Dorothy Ooko, Google’s communications and public affairs manager for East and Francophone Africa.

Interestingly, Equity has also employed MasterCard debit cards that allow tap-and-go payments using NFC, a possible substitute for BebaPay.

The MasterCard ATM cards come with PayPass technology that can be tapped on mobile phones or point-of-sale terminals, eliminating the need to swipe or give your card to cashiers when making payments.

Mobile money platform M-Pesa is perhaps Kenya’s greatest export to the world, where it is now in use in 10 countries including Romania, Egypt, India, South Africa, Lesotho and Mozambique.

Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing app for disaster information collection and co-ordination, gained global recognition after it was deployed in rescue efforts during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Google in early 2012 began piloting BebaPay on Citi Hoppa buses and formally unveiled the micropayment system in April last year.

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