Safaricom’s M-Pesa Super App: 2 Years In & The Road Ahead.

What is a super app? If you go online, it’s broadly defined as a mobile app that combines multiple services into one platform. Typically, a super app may include social networking, e-commerce, banking, messaging, food delivery, transportation features, etc. A super app will also usually have ‘mini-apps’ embedded in it that users can use as needed from within the super app.

The ultimate goal of a super app is to provide users with a single platform that can meet most of their diverse digital needs, without the need to download and use multiple separate apps for different use cases. The concept always brings to my mind the famous line from J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: “One ring to rule them all”. In the context of super apps, we could as well rephrase this to, “one app to rule them all”

In many ways, this seems to be completely true with some of the world’s most successful super apps. Indeed, by far, the poster child of all super apps has to be China’s WeChat. WeChat is a popular super app that incorporates instant messaging, social media, and payments. WeChat had over 1.2B users in 2022. Grab is another very popular super app in South East Asia for transportation, food delivery, and digital payments. Grab has 670+ users in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. Finally, Indonesia’s GoJek is yet another super app that has over 170M users.

There seems to be one peculiarity about super apps from my own observations – they seem to have been most successful in Asia. This nuance is probably driven by the fact that consumer behavior and socio-economic drivers are greatly enabled by a mobile-first paradigm and as such this means everyone does everything via their mobile devices. My sense is that there are strong similarities between Kenya and Africa where we never had a computer revolution, but rather, a mobile revolution.

As we come to Kenya, there is no doubt that Safaricom is not only the biggest brand outright but also one that provides a myriad of mobile and digital offerings at scale to millions of consumers and thousands of businesses. The Safaricom digital ecosystem is as intricate as it is expansive – from having the most mobile subscribers to being the biggest internet service provider (ISP) and also the largest fintech through its ubiquitous M-Pesa mobile money service. Safaricom looms increasingly large over all things digital in Kenya and East Africa.

In July 2021, Safaricom took the bold step to launch its own consumer-facing super app and aptly named it the M-Pesa super app. The name accurately suggests that M-Pesa underpins most of the utility of the app for payments. I personally have used the M-Pesa super app since it was launched and mostly because of its refined and user-friendly experience for making M-Pesa payments. In fact, as of November 2021, only 5 months after it was launched, it had 3.9M+ downloads and 2M+ monthly active users (MAUs). This is no mean feat for a local mobile app in Kenya!

In order to build and launch the M-Pesa super app, Safaricom partnered with AliPay which is also a popular super app in China with 1.3B users as of 2022. This partnership with AliPay helped Safaricom accelerate the rollout of the M-Pesa super app in a short time. It also gave Safaricom insights and technology for the mini-app platform that enables businesses to deploy their own apps in the M-Pesa super app. As of the last financial year ending in April 2023, the M-PESA Super App processed 489M transactions worth Kes. 1.3T. These are NOT small numbers, even for Safaricom!

Going forward, the biggest opportunity that lies in Safaricom’s M-Pesa super app is that businesses in Kenya can deploy their own mini-apps that can be hosted, distributed, and monetized seamlessly within it. As of July 2023, the M-Pesa super app has over 3M monthly active users (MAUs) and this number has grown aggressively in the last few months as there are more than 60 mini apps available on it for a myriad of use cases. Indeed, earlier this month, Vivo Energy Kenya (Shell Kenya), Shop Zetu, East African Breweries, and Anga Movies all launched mini-apps on the M-Pesa super app.

The potential for growth of the super app is massive as Lipa Na M-PESA businesses (i.e. Safaricom’s M-Pesa business or merchant offering) have more than quadrupled from 173,000 in April 2020 to more than 606,000 by April 2023 – an increase of more than 400,000 businesses. Any one of these businesses could become a mini app on the M-Pesa super app. Safaricom also has 32M M-Pesa monthly active users (MAUs), 1M M-Pesa Businesses, and 297,000 M-Pesa Agents. In addition, Safaricom has more than 20.5M smartphones on its network with an overall customer base of 43.7M subscribers. 14M of these smartphones are 4G enabled and Safaricom’s 4G network reaches more than 98% of Kenya’s population. Think about these numbers for a second. These are BIG numbers that can really drive the uptake of the M-Pesa super app.

Going forward, the major draw for users is going to be the mini apps that become available on the same and how well they are developed to offer a seamless and user-friendly experience for getting things done. This could be everything from paying for your next Uber or Bolt, buying clothes and movie tickets, or paying for your fuel at a Shell Petrol station and even making payments to the Kenya Government’s eCitizen portal which has thousands of services available.

However, the rise of the super app also brings certain challenges and concerns. As we look forward to an even more digitized Kenyan economy, it’s important to consider issues like data privacy, the risk of monopolistic behavior, and the impact on smaller local businesses that may struggle to compete in this expansive ecosystem. Despite these concerns, the super app trend, exemplified by Safaricom’s M-Pesa, brings exciting prospects for Kenya’s digital economy. It will be fascinating to track its trajectory and the transformative impact it is bound to have on consumer behavior and business operations.

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