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Offer alternatives in power sector

Kenya Power
A Kenya Power technician at work. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Have you been finteched yet? It’s my new verb - for what it’s like buying electricity in Kenya. The trick is to put in place a low-alternative, makes-it-easy, fintech system, that frequently fails, and leaves people in the dark unable to purchase electricity at all. I fintech, you fintech, we all fintech: courtesy of Kenya Power.

For, it seems, our electricity company has developed a truly serial business model problem. There was Model 1:1: KP, then with some lights on offer too as Kenya Power AND LIGHTING company, delivers electricity to customer – erratic, but often achieved.2: KP meters the customer’s use and bills them – horribly erratic, but sometimes achieved.3: The customer pays. Not always achieved.

There was a set that equaled a multiple business model problem, with an endpoint of not much payment. So, in step Kenya Power’s master strategists with a solution: No more bills, let’s move to prepayment. So far, so good: the customer bit of late or nonpayment gets eradicated.

But it’s still the same company that was poor at delivering electricity, postpaid bills or payment records that is now administering prepaid units. So, actually we get to Model 2: Customer buys electricity – payment leaves the customer, but no electricity units arrive with the customer. Clearly, not the most awesome leap towards business model success.

Moreover, the roadblock has been compounded by the fintech dependency – there’s not much back-up. As it is, the ‘buying units with M-Pesa’ idea is one that Kenya Power got, of course, from our telcos. But telcos never take the money and don’t deliver the airtime. AND they also let us buy scratch cards first, or too, or instead, and then airtime for cash, in kiosks, anywhere, dozens in any conurbation.

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Whereas Kenya Power has very few agents indeed: indeed lucky the customer who has to search for a Kenya Power agent to buy a code from once the fintech has failed. They are few and far between. Yet, without buying electricity some other way, they aren’t going to get their original money back, or fintech-purchased electricity units delivered.

For their phone is going to need some heavy-duty charge to complete that journey: calling queues, 10 calls, over two weeks: because now we’re dealing with KP’s customer service.

And moving to prepayment didn’t turn KP’s abysmal customer service into a great one. Indeed, only the brave ever get a refund from all the money KP doesn’t deliver electricity units for.

And even they lose, because it costs them, mostly, more in phone time battering their way through KP’s incompetence than they lost in the first place. Better just to accept the money is gone. Yet here’s the sunlight in this story.

As it is, Kenya Power is an antiquity in many global ways, and one of them is in its sole supplier monopoly status. You don’t see that much in the world of 2018, not many countries still have that. And there’s a reason. Think of those telcos again, all competing like crazy, all offering a cheaper data package, lower cost voice time, better customer service – ‘come to me, dear customer, I’m better: better value, better services’. They run to out-satisfy over the competitor or they lose customers.

But Kenya Power can’t lose customers: electricity buyers have nowhere else to go – although, frankly, ever more are stashing in solar panels, or mini-hydro, or some other way to escape. But that takes capital, not just signing on with a better competitor. Yet, hidden in this little tale of monopolistic travesty is a private sector back route in at least the fintech space.

My staff told me about it: Vendit. Instead of buying electricity units from KP’s paybill 888880, our truly funky, ‘in the know’, fintech masters found the company that has turned Kenya Power’s failures into an opportunity. Buy electricity units from Vendit’s paybill 501200 and it never delays or fails. It works.

So now we just need our private sector to offer us some alternative electricity too, cheaper prices, fewer power cuts, better customer service – you know, that stuff that wins customers. But at least we can buy some electricity now.

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