Antitrust enforcer subjects mobile payment operator to central bank oversight

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CAK settles with Safaricom, requires non-exclusivity of outlets and forces Central Bank oversight of payment operator

The mobile payments sphere, particularly growing in African countries as we reported previously, is abuzz with news that a competition regulator has now expressly subjected Safaricom (a prominent Kenyan operator) to oversight by the country’s Central Banking authority.  It also cements the (already preemptively and unilaterally undertaken) commitment by M-Pesa to remove the exclusivity provision that previously requred its 85 thousand network members to operate exclusively on the Safaricom mobile-payment network.

The official Kenyan Gazette notice 6856 contains the full, if short, language of the agreement:

IT IS notified for public information that in exercise of the powers conferred by section 38 of the Competition Act, the Competition Authority of Kenya, after an investigation into an alleged infringement of Part III of the prohibitions set out in the Act by Safaricom Limited and its Mobile Money transfer agents, entered into a settlement with Safaricom Limited on the following terms-

(a) that all restrictive clauses in the agreements between Safaricom Limited and its Mobile Money Transfer Agents be expunged immediately, but in any event not later than 18th July, 2014;

(b) that the Mobile Money Agents be at liberty to transact the Mobile Money Transfer Businesses of any other mobile money transfer service providers;

(c) that oversight by Safaricom Limited be thereafter limited to its business with the Agentsl and

(d) that each Mobile Money Service Provider be responsible for ensuring compliance with Central Bank of Kenya Regulations.
Dated the 22nd September, 2014.
WANG’OMBE KARIUKI. Director-General.

MobileWorld Live has reported the following on the settlement between the recently rather active CAK and Safaricom:

A settlement between the Competition Authority of Kenya and Safaricom leaves M-Pesa agents free to work with rival mobile money providers.

An announcement, made in the Kenya Gazette, follows a CAK investigation into an alleged infringement by the operator under the country’s Competition Act.

Back in July, the watchdog said all restrictive clauses in agreements between Safaricom and its agents must be expunged no later than 18 July (actually the operator pre-emptively removed exclusivity ahead of the CAK’s decision).

As we noted in our prior reporting on Safaricom’s troubles with the Kenyan Competition Authority (CAK):

Safaricom offers a product named “M-Pesa” to its customers in Kenya and Tanzania.  M-Pesa is a mobile-phone based money transfer and micro-financing service, launched in 2007 for Safaricom and Vodacom, the two largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania. The service enables its users to deposit and withdraw money, transfer money to other users and non-users, pay bills, purchase airtime and transfer money between the service and, in Kenya, a bank account.  Users of M-Pesa are charged a service fee for sending and withdrawing money.

By 2010, M-Pesa became the most successful mobile-phone-based financial service in the developing world.

In light of the imminent launch of the Airtel product, Airtel has lodged a complaint with the Competition Authority of Kenya on the basis that Safaricom currently holds 78% of the voice market in Kenya, 96% of the short message service market and 74% of the mobile data market.  In addition, Airtel is of the view that these market shares make it impossible for Kenyan consumers to have a choice in operators. By 2012, 17 million M-Pesa accounts were registered in Kenya alone, which has a population of over 40 million.

There are a total of approximately 31 million mobile-phone subscriptions in Kenya in 2013, of which Safaricom accounted for 68%, Airtel 17%, Essar Group’s “yuMobile” 9% and Telkom Kenya Limited 7%.

 

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Airtel Kenya requests probe of Safaricom for abuse of dominance in mobile money transfer market

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Mobile payment wars heating up in Kenya

Airtel Networks Kenya Limited (“Airtel”) has joined forces with Kenya-based Equity Bank to launch a similar mobile banking product, M-KESHO in July 2014 to the established product provided by Safaricom Limited (“Safaricom”).

Safaricom offers a product named “M-Pesa” to its customers in Kenya and Tanzania.  M-Pesa is a mobile-phone based money transfer and micro-financing service, launched in 2007 for Safaricom and Vodacom, the two largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania. The service enables its users to deposit and withdraw money, transfer money to other users and non-users, pay bills, purchase airtime and transfer money between the service and, in Kenya, a bank account.  Users of M-Pesa are charged a service fee for sending and withdrawing money.

By 2010, M-Pesa became the most successful mobile-phone-based financial service in the developing world.

In light of the imminent launch of the Airtel product, Airtel has lodged a complaint with the Competition Authority of Kenya on the basis that Safaricom currently holds 78% of the voice market in Kenya, 96% of the short message service market and 74% of the mobile data market.  In addition, Airtel is of the view that these market shares make it impossible for Kenyan consumers to have a choice in operators. By 2012, 17 million M-Pesa accounts were registered in Kenya alone, which has a population of over 40 million.

There are a total of approximately 31 million mobile-phone subscriptions in Kenya in 2013, of which Safaricom accounted for 68%, Airtel 17%, Essar Group’s “yuMobile” 9% and Telkom Kenya Limited 7%.

However, Safaricom has indicated that cash transfers still account for 98% of the total transactions in Kenya and therefore it is impossible for any mobile-money entity to be a dominant player in the payments market.

The Competition Authority of Kenya has identified telecommunications as one of several markets being scrutinised by the Competition Authority for possible abuses of dominance.  This probe is expected to reach completion by July 2014.

In terms of Kenyan law, if a company controls at least half of the provision of trade of services or goods, the company will be considered to be dominant.  In Kenya, a conviction of abuse of dominance can lead to a five-year prison term and a USD 115 000 penalty

Kenya is quite clearly pushing on in relation to significant cases in sectors which affect the majority of the population, as discussed in the overview of maturing African competition regimes published last week.  However, it is noteworthy that in April 2014, Kenya’s telecommunications regulator granted approval for Safaricom and Airtel to buy Essar Group’s “yuMobile” and it is considering awarding licenses for at least three more telecommunications companies.  Orange SA has indicated that its operations may exit the Kenyan market, where it owns 70 percent of Telkom Kenya (which in turn accounts for 7% of the mobile phone subscriptions in Kenya).

Financial Times: Africa “most exciting”; FT hosts inaugural investment summit

First-ever FT African Investment Summit to be held in London

In October, the Financial Times will be hosting a timely “FT-Live” London symposium on investment in Africa.  The Oct. 6th FT Africa Summit (agenda) is expected to draw a global audience from various industry sectors, limited to 150 attendees.

Whether or not the conference will spark a wave of M&A activity (and hence antitrust scrutiny) on the continent remains to be seen.  For now, the paper’s event PR proclaims optimistically:

The continent’s economic growth is the second fastest in the world, underpinned by a virtuous cycle of improved governance, Chinese-led investments in infrastructure, high commodities prices, and the growth of a nascent, even if fragile, middle class. Yet, risks abound, from rising inequality to the potential of setbacks in governance.

The inaugural FT Africa Summit will provide a global platform to hear and discuss the views of finance ministers, investors and businesses leaders from around the region. Altogether the first Summit and the special report will be a unique opportunity to gain insights into one of the world’s most exciting markets.

Today’s edition also reports, fittingly, that large-scale investors (such as Atlas Mara’s head and  former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond) are looking increasingly to the African continent for high-growth financial investment opportunities.  Diamond is reported to have raised $1/3 billion for his “African war chest” of Atlas Mara to invest in African bank acquisitions, and is said to plan another $400m round of fund-raising later this year.

Bob Diamond

As the FT points out, the growth potential for financial services in sub-Saharan Africa is theoretically immense, as the majority of the region’s 1-billion-plus population does not yet have bank accounts.  However — and the FT omits this crucial fact — as we reported elsewhere, the dearth of access to brick-and-mortar banks in Africa has led to the pioneering use of GSM mobile technology, such as M-Pesa, for retail financial transactions at a record-setting adoption rate in Africa; see our M-Pesa reporting and other stories.

Mobile Telecom and Payments sector getting boost from state in Kenya

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See PDF reprint of this article (published by “e-competitions“) here.
According to a release by the Kenyan Communications Commission (CCK), the CCK is cooperating with the country’s Competition Authority (CAK) to enhance the mobile telecoms sector in Kenya.

The CCK is aiming for 90% of all Kenyans to have access to mobile communications devices within five years, thereby seeking to double the telecoms sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP to a total of 5%.  It is noteworthy that Kenya – a comparatively technologically advanced East African nation that currently already has 76% mobile penetration among its residents – is not only relying on the telecom authority to achieve these goals, but the agency is actively collaborating with the competition watchdog CAK.

An article in HumanIPO quotes the CCK director general, Francis Wangusi, as saying: “We are working with the Competition Authority to ensure that all the mobile money transfer platforms are transparent in order to promote competition.”  The official CCK press release is available here.

Other interesting statistics are the planned increase in internet penetration from the current 41.6% to 70% and that of mobile money services from 58.9% to 70% by the end of the 5-year plan.

Mobile payments have been described as “the epicenter of mobile commerce. The merger of the social, mobile, and payment industries has created incredible business growth opportunities for start-ups, social media, banks, retailers, payment networks, and other companies.”

Use of a mobile device such as a cell phone with SMS or internet capability is particularly widespread in many African countries, where brick-and-mortar banks are scarce and not widely used by the vast majority of the population, whereas mobile phones are omnipresent and relatively easily accessible (see the 76% current penetration rate, which rivals that of developed European economies).

Kenya itself is considered by many to be at the forefront of the African mobile-payments universe, with its M-Pesa mobile-currency system often touted as the most developed mobile-payment system in the world.  The Economist asked rhetorically: “Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money?”, pointing out that roughly 25% of Kenya’s GDP flows through the mobile service, with over 17 million users in Kenya alone.  The WorldBank has commented that “Mobile payments go viral [with] M-PESA in Kenya.”  M-Pesa was originally launched in March 2007 by Vodacom/Safaricom in Kenya and is now jointly operated with other carriers offering services in Tanzania, South Africa, Afghanistan, India and other nations.