Safaricom at the tip of Mount Kenya

From tech milestones over the years to running iconic ads depicting the scenic snow caped Mount Kenya, valleys, and the Savannah, Safaricom has done it all, leaving industry observers asking where does one go from here, does it get any better?

That is the question Safaricom’s board are asking themselves after 20 years propelled them to the peak.

To put it into context, Safaricom current market value is now greater than all the listed firms at the Nairobi Securities Exchange.

Further, the telco’s mobile money platform, M-PESA, has dwarfed Kenya’s forty plus banks in their trade while its network carries nearly Kenya’s entire adult population in its 31.5 million pool of subscribers.

What’s more, Safaricom’s Kes264 billion in revenues realized in the year ended March 2021 is more than all the flowers, fruits and vegetable export earnings by Kenya that stood at Kes150.1 billion.

Which begs the question: How do you grow from here; the top?

“The biggest challenge I see in a company the size of Safaricom is complacency. We cannot rest on our laurels or think that we are too big to fail if we want to ensure that our customers get the best experience first time, every single time,” Safaricom Chairman Michael Joseph notes in the company’s sustainability report.

Many technology companies usually peak after a decade, plateau and go Kodak. Safaricom is 20 years with this reality all too real than imagined.

However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Safaricom may just have made the first steps of the firms metamorphosis from a telco to technology company that will graft into its customers’ daily life seamlessly.

Take Safaricom Bonga Points for instance which became the currency, turning the reward scheme that earned customer’s points for making calls and sending texts, literally into manna from heaven.

Many homes struggling with job losses turned to the loyalty points to pay for essential goods and services. Other customers donated their Bonga Points to those in need.

The initiative saw 100 million Kenyans try out this new currency every month and it is now a permanent service with customers redeeming their points at any Buy Goods till merchants countrywide.

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What’s more, this currency can now even buy shares at the Nairobi Securities Exchange after Safaricom partnered with the bourse to allow its customers buy stocks with the loyalty tokens.

Further, Safaricom became the emergency helpline by ingraining itself into the Covid-19 health crisis quick response system through 719 helpline at the request of the government where all Kenyans could get assistance their operator of choice notwithstanding.

The company also enabled millions of workers connect to their offices from the comfort of their homes through their 10,099km of laid fibre optic link.

The firm also acquired additional spectrum to meet the spike in demand for internet services as most of their customers transitioned to working from home which helped double fibre speeds, enabling people to work more efficiently.

The telco also upgraded 1,045 sites to 4G to meet the significant increase in demand for mobile data, driven by customers’ continuing to work from home and the need to stay in touch with family and friends during the pandemic.

With high speed internet links to homes and on mobile handsets, Safaricom became the school teacher for millions of Kenyan children through partnerships with Longhorn publishers, Viusasa Elimu, Shupavu-Eneza and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) enabling roughly 15 million downloads of available learning content.

Above all, Safaricom hit where it matters most, the pockets, where Kenyans made over Kes4.38 trillion worth of transactions in less than Kes1000 in value to enjoy the free transfers offered by the telco in collaboration with the Central Bank of Kenya.

By zero-rating the transactions, Safaricom waived Kes1.7 billion but extended the use of digital adoption in leaps and bounds.

This opened up a new frontier for the company in partnering with small businesses that served majority of Kenyans in neighborhoods while supporting the SME’s weather shocks of the pandemic.

Safaricom focused on new business areas such as agribusiness, education, healthcare, the financial sector, MSMEs and regional expansion amongst others.

The Board, together with CEO Peter Ndegwa and the management team, saw opportunity to position Safaricom to be future-fit by providing products and services while helping MSMEs build back better.

They launched Pochi La Biashara, a product that allows business owners such as food vendors, small kiosk owners, boda-boda (motorcycle taxis) operators and secondhand clothes dealers, among others to receive and separate business money from personal funds on their M-PESA line.

“We also recognised that small businesses face a number of challenges in managing the money received from their sales such as keeping track of their transactions, making payments to their suppliers from the money received or paying wages through M-PESA to their workers,” Mr Ndegwa said.

To address these challenges, they unveiled M-PESA Business Till which addresses these needs by providing a one-stop solution for receiving payments and managing payments for small businesses.

But even as the telco capped its journey to the peak with entry into Ethiopia where the firm hopes to replicate the Kenyan success in a new market with over four million SMEs and a population that is projected to hit 150 million by 2030, Safaricom is uneasy with itself; it wants to change from within in as much as it has transformed its outside interactions with customers.

“We are introducing agile to ensure we don’t fall into this trap. Within the agile working environment, we envisage, teams are formed around the creation of value for the customer. To build a future-fit workforce and we will continue to invest in building capabilities for our people especially on key digital skills such as machine learning, IoT, Artificial Intelligence and blockchain,” Chairman Michael Joseph noted.

It’s lonely at the top and it seems Safaricom journey into a fully purpose-led technology enterprise will take introspection, a look in the mirror to ensure this monumental growth remains profitable and above all sustainable.

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