Rapid growth of Kenya’s telecoms sector in the past 10 years has made the technology appear to have always been with us. Few Kenyans can remember when they acquired their first mobile phone or what make it was.
I remember the feeling… free, progressive and empowered. It was not as common then to have one so it also came with a strong sense of achievement that weighed heavily on me and continues to each time I upgrade.
The ability to text and call, when I could afford it, felt empowering. Even more so the ability to be reached at any time made sure I always kept it with me. I could barely afford to use it, but all the same it felt like the world could now reach me.
This has since changed fundamentally. As I proceeded to get the next phone and the next, moving swiftly to a smart phone, the cost of using a phone and the number of tasks I can perform have increased substantially.
I have come a long way from only being able to send a text or make the rare call, to downloading apps, getting emails, Google searches, playing games and being social on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter — right on much the same size of a device.
Only a few people can also remember their first email address, their first browser experience and staring at the address bar trying to figure out what to type let alone the right format to type it in.
Yahoo, yes Yahoo Mail — that was my first. I remember my neighbour’s father, an engineer, bought a couple of PCs and a dial up connection to offer cyber café services in my neighbourhood.
Given that the son was my friend and school mate, over the holidays I would eagerly manage the business with him given my intrigue and amazement with the Internet.
I could barely afford the Sh50 for 30 minutes of a dial-up session only to quickly load emails and quickly read the important ones.
We surely have come a long way. Pricing has moved from time to volume of data. Today customers have more to do on the Internet than in the past, so much so that they run out of data as opposed to the time they have been allocated on a dial-up session at a cyber café.
Besides, mobile Internet access has become very personal and convenient. It is therefore no coincidence that over 16 million Kenyans are subscribed to the Internet.
Mobile penetration in Kenya, as at the end of last year, hit a high of 82.6 per cent of the population with over 32 million subscribers.
Today the mobile phone is more powerful and relevant to one’s personal and business life than ever before. This has been accelerated to access the Internet.
We have more online content and information than ever before and have seen delivery of this information compartmentalise into apps to suit mobile and purpose. Gone are the days when you would have to look for memories, experiences and pictures.
The fast adoption of mobile phones and access to the Internet over the past 10 years has given impetus to new and innovative business models within the financial services sector. Describe Kenya today and what pops up is mobile money.
As financial services institutions got left behind by the expectations of fast adopting mobile users to simply send money faster, they have progressed to offer products, services and access to their customers.
The reality, however, is that acceptance of these digital banking propositions has not been as fast, especially if its introduction comes with a link to the customer’s bank account.
Only 20 to 30 per cent of banked customers use either mobile or online banking yet 26 million customers are actively subscribed to mobile money, twice the number of banked customers.
It’s almost as if customers cannot reconcile how they use their mobile and Internet for daily communication and what digital services (mobile banking and online banking) their bank offers them.
The other side of it, however, is if a proposition is offered completely unhinged from the bank or bank account, whether in partnership or directly, but identified differently, the uptake soars.
Earlier this year we travelled across our branches regionally to understand how our customers behave.
I remember asking a security manager in Kitale why he came to the branch to check his balance and if he knew about our mobile banking service.
He responded that he leaves his phone at home and only carries it when he has received money on it and needs to withdraw.
My next question was if he had ever gone into a Safaricom shop to check his M-Pesa balance.
This disparity between customers’ personal usage of mobile and online and their acceptance of any banking services that use the very digital channel is what needs to be addressed.
We believe that a convergent conversation on digital literacy, not as a separate activity or offering, will bridge the gap.
Check account balance
So let’s talk about how much data you use on WhatsApp, how to open a Facebook account and what is Snap chat together with how to check your account balance at home or pay one at night — all in one conversation and not in different circumstances.
Let’s chat about how to use social media to sell more shoes and clothes, how to get the Internet in your office together with how to pay your landlord and staff without any money in the account and how to make customers pay you through their mobile phones — all in one conversation.
We shouldn’t differentiate the two conversations because the definitive lines should either be too thin or non-existent.
Customers should not even bother about making the distinction. What matters to them is whether it will make their life or business simpler.
Ndichu is the Group Head, Digital Financial Services, Mobile, Payments & Digital Sales at Chase Bank.