After more than a year in the courts over the launch of its thin SIM technology, Equity Bank finally launched the Equitel thin SIM card specifically meant to take on MPESA head-on. Early last year Equity Bank was awarded the Mobile Virtual Operator license with which it introduced the Equitel Mobile Services that rides on Airtel Network for offering both mobile and banking services to millions of its customers across the country. By mid last year, the Bank rolled out the pilot programme to test the Equitel services where hundreds of thousands of Equity Bank customers, me included, were given free Equitel SIM cards. To date, it is being said there are up to 1.6 million Equity Bank customers on the Equitel Network.
The Equitel services have been good in terms of quality. At the time I received my Equitel line, which I still have, I used it to bank and to surf the Internet. My experience as an Internet user on Equitel was written in the article You are better off with Airtel Internet. Although I had given up on using Equity Bank’s mobile banking platform as I had forgotten my Eazzy 247 PIN and the process of resetting the PIN is very outdated, receiving the Equitel SIM enabled me to again stop going to the banking halls to do any transactions.
Equitel is primarily meant to allow users to flexibly transfer money without incurring exorbitant costs that has been characteristic of MPESA ever since Bob Collymore abolished the standard 30 shillings MPESA to MPESA transfer fees. In the article Equitel is the solution to M-PESA’s inflated tariffs, I outlined several advantages Equitel has over MPESA, Airtel Money and Orange Money, and argued that it would be financially cheaper for a person to travel all the way from Nairobi to Nakuru to physically deliver Shs 100,000 at a cost of Shs 600 or thereabout instead of incurring Shs 737 to do the same through MPESA. If Equitel was chosen, then it would be possible to execute the same transaction for much as less as Kshs 60.
Even though I have owned Equitel for over eight months, I haven’t used the network to transfer money to an Equitel number neither have I withdrawn money from an Equitel agent. What I have done is that I have frequently transferred money from my Equity Bank account to MPESA from which I withdraw or pay my bills, and for this and two other reasons, I think Equitel is not really a deal breaker.
1. MPESA IS STILL KEY IN MOBILE MONEY BUSINESS
Many Kenyans have expressed optimism that Equitel will be a game changer in the mobile money market and that Safaricom will be forced to react to the launch of Equitel thin SIM card.
#Equitel can easily take over mobile payment market if they make their APIs and documentation easily accessible to software/web developers
— Jared Kidambi (@JaredKidambi) July 20, 2015
But MPESA still proves to be an important platform that is hard to do away with. Just like me, Irungu wa Mwangi finds it easier to transfer money from his Equity Bank to MPESA, then withdraw.
I love #Equitel… i use it for my transactions everyday. The problem is that i do it via MPESA…send to MPESA then Withdraw…
— Irungu Wa Mwangi (@irushtony) July 20, 2015
Until a time comes when people can perform virtually every possible mobile money transaction without having to rely on MPESA, we cannot expect products like Equitel to take over. In addition to the universal spread of MPESA agents across the country, agents that are available within walking distances from almost every Kenyan living in major parts of the country, MPESA too has the well known Pay Bill numbers for utilities like Water, Electricity, Entertainment and Government Services (see the article Save this eCitizen MPESA Paybill Number – 206206. Trust me, you will need it after reading this) and the now ever growing goods/services payment platform, Lipa Na MPESA. The MPESA Pay Bill and Lipa Na MPESA will ensure that MPESA remains in the game for a very long time to come.
2. CORE MOBILE SERVICES ARE NOT FRIENDLY ON EQUITEL
As much as Equitel is primarily meant for money transfer, the base infrastructure and operability of Equitel is on the core mobile services. As a mobile service platform, Equitel also provides voice, text and data services, but at very unfriendly rates.
To call on Equitel for instance, one is supposed to pay Kshs 4 per minute at a time when the standard rates is typically Kshs 3 and Kshs 2 per minute in the other mobile service platforms. The data rates on Equitel are equally outrageous. For example, today one will buy 3 GB of data for Kshs 1,000 on Safaricom yet the same amount of money will give you only 1.5 GB of data on Equitel, making Equitel Internet twice as expensive. For Kshs 1000, you can as well receive 2 GB high speed and unlimited slow speed Internet on Airtel Unliminet (see the comparison on the article Safaricom Internet Bundles vs Airtel Unliminet.
Discouraging the use of Equitel line on the core mobile services will only work to limit the number of people willing to abandon their lines for Equitel since mobile money services are at the third place after voice and data in that order. As Sharon Odak tweeted, until Equitel comes up with a structured friendly data plans, it will be too early to expect Equitel to shake the powers that be in the mobile money sector.
Below is the press release on the launch of Equitel:-
EQUITEL LAUNCHES THE THIN SIM CARD TECHNOLOGY IN KENYA
Equity Bank Group today launched Equitel, a new mobile payment and banking platform for its customers –that officially brings to the fore the convergence between mobile and banking services in Kenya.
The bank has hailed its newest innovation as the answer to promoting greater access to banking services which currently stand at 53percent of the Kenyan population.
“The unveiling of this new platform is part of our 30 year journey of promoting financial inclusion. Our aim is to raise the number of Kenyans with access to banking services to 90percent and above in the first phase,” said Dr. James Mwangi, Equity Bank Group CEO.
Equitel now becomes the first platform in Kenya to combine the best of mobile and banking services to give Kenyans more Freedom, Choice and Control when managing money and staying in touch with their loved ones.
At the same time, the bank unveiled 0764 prefix after hitting one million customers on the 0763 prefix during the pilot phase.
“Equitel is providing the bank with another opportunity to continue our mission of offering inclusive, innovative, customer-focused financial services that transform livelihoods, give dignity and expand opportunities,” said Dr. Mwangi adding on that the company has put up an elaborate plan to further boost financial inclusion that transcends limitation of banking time and location.
The new platform eliminates the need for mobile applications in accessing internet banking as even a simple feature phone will work in a similar manner like a sophisticated smart phone further demystifying financial services.
“Internet banking has been a preserve of a few but now with Equitel this will be a mass market offering. It will enable all customers to access their bank accounts for 24 hours 7 days a week,” said Dr. Mwangi. The Equitel platform will make banking services more accessible, flexible, convenient and more affordable.
It is also a unique and universal platform that is interoperable with other systems as users will not only be able to securely send and receive money on the Equitel network but also from other banks and mobile money platforms such as Airtel Money, Yu Cash, Orange Money and MPESA.
“We are offering a universal platform whose technology spans from the Equity ecosystem to include other financial institutions and mobile systems,” Dr. Mwangi said.
Equitel, money transfer from one mobile phone or bank account to another within the Equity ecosystem will be done free of charge.
Therefore, Equitel is not only scheduled to bring full mobility to banking by simplifying the payments and transactions process but also key in further reducing the cost of mobile and banking services –enabling greater inclusion for all Kenyans and beyond.
“We will be leveraging on the bank’s presence across the region to roll out Equitel and this is the basis of optimism of attaining a subscriber base of over five million SIM cards by end of 2015,” Dr. Mwangi added.
Customers can visit any Equity Bank branch countrywide to obtain their SIM cards from a choice of standard size SIM, micro and nano and thin SIM based on their requirements.
“Customers can call 100 on their Equitel line for support from a fully resourced contact centre with customer care representatives who have been fully trained to manage all customer enquiries 24/7,” he added.
Equitel is the first platform in Kenya and in Africa to offer a full banking suite without building new mobile infrastructure. Commonly known as a Mobile Virtual Number Operator (MVNO), the service combines mobile and banking in a fresh, ground breaking way.
Airtel Africa CEO Christian De Faria lauded Equity Bank on their innovation and said the company was proud to serve as partner operator for the Equitel platform.
“Equitel services are already running on our network and we are delighted to work with Equity Bank to pioneer this innovation in Kenya,” said Airtel Africa CEO Christian De Faria.
According to Dr. Mwangi, Equitel becomes a value addition for Airtel as the latter will provide telecom services including voice, SMSs and data services for the platform.
Additionally, Equitel will further financial inclusion by offering members a range of banking products such as loans, cross boarder transfers, insurance and investments services. Equitel customers can also receive diaspora remittances onto their accounts and access it directly through their mobile phone.
Equitel is available to all Equity Bank account holders and provides a perfect means to enjoy control and freedom of choice. For those who are not members they can easily open an Equity Account Hapo Hapo by dialling *247# on any mobile phone.