Kenya has led the African continent in financial innovation for more than a decade with its revolutionary mobile money service M-Pesa, used by two in five Kenyans. Now its entrepreneurs are seeking to use the country’s love for mobile payments to solve bigger economic problems.
Mobile money was just the “first step”, says Ken Njoroge, co-founder and co-chief executive of digital payments company Cellulant. The second, he continues, was digital lending. “Only when you get to the third tier, when you take these products and assemble them together to really solve a huge economic problem in the market do you make real progress.”
In the second of the half the year, Mr Njoroge’s Nairobi-headquartered company will launch Agrikore, a digital payment, contracting and marketplace system that connects small farmers in Kenya with large commercial customers.
Agrikore is already up and running in Nigeria, and Cellulant believes the system can unlock the vast potential of Africa’s fragmented agricultural sector and deepen the reach and impact of financial services for the continent’s 1bn people. “To really win the financial inclusion battle in Africa, you build it in agriculture and then replicate,” he says.
Kenya is a perfect test case for both the potential and the limits of traditional efforts to expand access to financial services. More than 80 per cent of Kenyans now have access to financial services — defined to include those offered by banks, microfinance providers and mobile money providers — up from 27 per cent in 2006, according to a survey published this month by Kenya’s central bank. In the capital Nairobi, financial inclusion is as high as 96 per cent.