Economy

Safaricom makes U-turn on Bonga points expiry plan

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M-PESA Super App for Safaricom customers, with an “Offline Mode” and “Mini Apps” that enable customers to use the M-PESA Super App and complete transactions even without data bundles or when totally offline. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Safaricom has reversed a plan to put an expiry date on its Bonga loyalty programme that had amassed Sh4.5 billion in liabilities by March 2022, which would have seen customers lose points accrued before 2019.

The telco on Tuesday disputed reports that it had set Bonga Points expiry date in an email response to Business Daily questions on the loyalty programme ahead of 2019.

“At no point did Safaricom announce that Bonga (Points) were expiring,” Safaricom said.

The latest position by the firm is against a November update of the programme’s terms and conditions that would have seen the unclaimed points expire effective January 1.

“Effective January 1, 2023, all Bonga Points older than three years will expire and will be unavailable for redemption,” the telco said.

READ: MPs open probe on data expiry, Safaricom Bonga points

“Your Bonga Points will also expire immediately in the event that your line has been deleted as a result of inactivity and in accordance with the terms and conditions for the use of the Safaricom services.”

A review shows Safaricom has since retracted the update from its website.

At the same time, a look-up of Bonga Points balances through the *126# USSD code shows the telco still lists points accrued before 2019 separately from the current balance of points.

However, the pre-2019 points are available for redemption as those accrued most recently.

Safaricom had termed the move to expire the unused Bonga Points as a business decision aimed to incentivise redemption with liabilities hitting Sh4.5 billion end of March 2022.

The telco began the loyalty programme in October 2017, giving both pre-pay and postpaid subscribers a point for every Sh10 spent on its network.

The Bonga Points can be redeemed for rewards including talk-time (minutes), data bundles, and messaging bundles.

For instance, 50 Bonga Points earns a customer four minutes of talk time with a validity of seven days. Six hundred points give 3,500 SMSs valid for 30 days.

In addition to data, minutes and SMS, the points are usually redeemable for merchandise at select retail outlets while using Lipa na M-Pesa service.

At the same time, Safaricom has leveraged the loyalty programme to drive charity causes, including allowing customers to give away points to the needy at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic under an initiative dubbed Bonga for Good through which Kenyans donated Sh330 million in three months to June 2020.

The U-turn on Bonga expiry comes amid a backlash by consumers who faulted the push to limit how long a subscriber could access and redeem the loyalty goodies.

Among others, Nakuru surgeon Magare Gikenyi sued the telco over the expiry plans, arguing the move would lead to the loss of Sh4.5 billion in claims by customers.

Further, the surgeon indicated that the decision by Safaricom was an outright abuse of business dominance which would hurt subscribers.

“It is unfair for the respondents to fail their subscribers by forcing them to redeem their loyalty points, or else they lose them through its arbitrary and irrational actions,” stated Dr Gikenyi.

The High Court, nevertheless, declined the petition, citing when it was filed.

READ: Use of Bonga points to buy NSE shares starts on slow pace

The value of outstanding/unredeemed points has been on the rise, peaking from Sh3 billion in 2015 to Sh4.5 billion.

The growth in the points which are listed as deferred income by the company is continuing despite the operator expanding options for redemption to include the purchase of shares at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) and buying mobile phones.

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