We have said here several times that Safaricom services are damn expensive, where in a recent analysis we concluded that by and large Safaricom services are at least 50-70% more expensive than Airtel and Orange services. To save us from Safaricom’s highly priced products, Airtel came up with the Airtel Unliminet whereas Orange restructured its data bundles offering and at the same time has maintained a maximum of shs 3 per minute on calling rates. Those who therefore complain about the exorbitant cost of Safaricom voice calls or data bundles have Airtel and Orange to lean on. But those are not the only expensive services, MPESA charges too are way too high, an extortion that we thought Equitel Services could redeem us from but going by this article, it is clear that there are things Equitel ain’t doing right and in this article we examine three of them.
Poor distribution of Equitel Lines
Equitel lines are not easily available. As opposed to Safaricom, Airtel and Orange lines that you can get almost anywhere, Equitel lines are only available from Equity Bank branches. Secondly, Equitel lines are not available to anyone except the few Equity Bank customers. What this means is that if you have been enticed by the Equitel services and you would want to give it a short, the procedure will be to first open an Equity Bank Account then obtain the Equitel number. If for example you open up the Equity Bank account via an Equity Agent in the estate, you will be forced to travel to the nearest Equity Bank branch for you obtain the Equitel line.
The process where one has to travel to an Equity Bank branch in order to obtain an Equitel line, coupled by the fact that only Equity Bank customers can become Equitel subscribers is a huge barrier to the widespread adoption of Equitel as a formidable service among Kenyans.
It is understandable that Equitel is being considered as a value add service to Equity Bank customers, same way M-Shwari is a value add service to M-PESA customers, which again is a value add service to Safaricom customers – but given that Equitel has been positioned as a product that is in competition with M-PESA, then it is critical for Equity Group to reconsider the philosophy behind Equitel and put it as the main service and Equity Bank be turned around as the value add service.
What I am trying to say is that Equity Bank should effectively promote and avail Equitel SIM cards everywhere. Since the law today requires those who buy SIM cards must be registered, then during the process of registration the new Equitel Customer is automatically given a bank account with Equity Bank through which the Equitel customer can transact the financial services.
If this will be adopted, then a Wanjiku in the heart of Kirinyiga will walk to an Equity Bank agent in the neighborhood, ask to be sold an Equitel line, but after registering she’ll walk away with both the line and a bank account that is directly linked to her Equitel number – meaning that next time she visits an Equity Bank branch, she’ll be able to also transact over the counter using her Equitel number as her primary reference/identification document – of course in addition to other identification documents like the National ID or Passport.
Removing the barriers of access to Equitel services will make it easier for as many Kenyans as possible to seek the services of Equitel, and in this way Equitel will be able to grow faster and open up the possibility of catching up with M-PESA. Today, there are about 21 million M-PESA customers and only 10 million Equity Bank customers. That means that with the current setup, even if there would be 100% adoption rate, Equitel can only manage to grow up to 10 million customers, which will be less than 50% of M-PESA customers. The barrier where for one to acquire an Equitel number he or she must visit an Equity Bank branch has also hampered the adoption of Equitel lines within the bank’s customer base, enabling only 1.8 million Equity Bank customers (18%), to subscribe to the Equitel services after two years of launch.
Linked to the distribution of Equitel lines is marketing Approach. First, Equity Group has not gone out full blast to bombard Kenyans with Equitel slogans on TV, Radio, Newspapers, Billboards, Online and everywhere at a magnitude similar to what Safaricom has done with M-PESA. Safaricom has ensured that M-PESA is everywhere we turn our heads to, in every major Kenyan TV Station we tune to watch, and in all major radio stations we would prefer to listen to.
For a population that has been fed and indoctrinated with M-PESA, only an active marketing approach of an equal or greater magnitude can free the minds of the population from the indoctrination, but Equity Group cannot be able to spearhead a thorough campaign for Equitel unless it first restructure the distribution of Equitel lines as suggested above.
The idea that Equitel Services belong to Equity Bank customers means that even if Finserve and Equity Group were to spearhead the most expensive product launch and branding campaign for Equitel, very few Kenyans outside of Equity Bank would be enthusiastic to join given the hurdles created by the requirement that one has to have an Equity Bank account first and only be able to obtain an Equitel line from an Equity Bank branch – meaning Finserve must first get the distribution right before launching an aggressive campaign for Equitel services.