In my last post I shared my experience with Google and Equity’s BebaPay card and a few tips on using it. I am a great fan of the idea, but then again I am a notorious sucker for novelty, the perennial early adopter. The question has repeatedly been posed to me over the last few weeks: Will the duo’s foray into payments with BebaPay gain currency in Kenya?
The lure for matatu owners, the companies and SACCOs supporting this venture is simple. They get the matatu crews that usually collect fare in cash to be accountable. They also do not have to handle vast amounts of cash with the risk that this entails. The day’s collections are simply wired to their bank accounts.
The crews will have a lot less work calculating, finding and issuing change.
The Central Bank , that issues currency notes and coins likes this too, because bank notes that often start their swift journey to tattered death in the hands of matatu conductors who have a penchant for folding them in two and holding them between middle and ring fingers in this country, will live on just a bit longer. It has been reported that Kenyan currency notes have the shortest lifespan of any currency notes in Africa.
Google – and their allies Equity – want in on the payments market. Your BebaPay credits are good only for paying matatu fare now but that’s just as easily extensible to paying for other goods.
Money is an idea. It is virtual. Whatever we accept as money passes for it. Whoever gets their card, cowry shell, mobile wallets onto everyone’s hands and gains widespread acceptance first wins this one.
Safaricom’s Mpesa had the advantage of utlizing a technology that was already in wide use – the mobile phone. Someone did not need to purchase anything to sign up for and start using Mpesa since most folk already had a mobile phone and/or a Safaricom sim card. Those that did not could acquire them on the cheap.
This unlike the cards that have recently been touted by the likes of DTB/Nation’s less than stellar NationHela offering and Google’s Beba 1.0 that one had to acquire in the first place.
In this reincarnation of Google’s latest experiment with virtual wallets, they have signed up a formidable partner that not only brings to bear a well known household brand, but exceptional expertise in finance, a well distributed and established network of agents and an element of that most vital of commodities in our part of the world when it comes to money: trust.
The card has been rebranded BebaPay, Equity’s brand features prominently on the card and Google’s name has altogether disappeared. Perhaps the thinking here was Google’s brand – the American firm best known as a technology giant would scare large swathes of the local population that are often inexplicably intimidated by technology.
Only time will tell if the Kenyan commuter will embrace this. An obvious advantage would be the ability to budget and manage travel expenses. Once someone tops up their monthly commuter budget on to their BebaPay card they are assured of travel till the next month. There is no danger of pilfering with money intended for the commute and running out of fare mid month, an altogether common occurrence with the local working and schooling masses.
Also the ability to top up the card directly from one’s Equity bank account, the bank is the largest in Kenya by account holders, via a mobile phone service would be of great convenience to many.
One would also imagine the ability to top up the BebaPay card directly from an ATM would be great.Withdrawals made by most people are often for bus fare. As far as I can tell this is not the case.
Will this be enough to revolutionise the commuter transport and payment industries or both in Kenya? Equity and Google have a lot of money -and pride – riding on it.