Global digital payments giant, Visa, and East Africa’s biggest telecom Safaricom, the operator of the M-Pesa mobile money product, have today launched a virtual card, enabling millions of M-Pesa users to make digital payments globally, and giving Visa extended reach across Africa. The launch of the M-Pesa GlobalPay Visa virtual card follows a partnership between the two companies forged in 2020 to develop “products that will support digital payments for M-Pesa customers.” The virtual card will enable 30 million M-Pesa users to make cashless payments at Visa’s global network of more than 100 million merchants spread across 200 countries. Users can activate the virtual card through the M-Pesa mobile app or by USSD. Previously, M-Pesa users could only make mobile money payments within M-Pesa’s network of nearly 400,000 merchants.
“Safaricom has changed how money moves in Kenya. We are pleased to be working together to build new and innovative payment products and services that will help merchants and customers in Sub-Saharan Africa overcome hurdles to global trade,” said Visa vice president and general manager for East Africa, Corine Mbiaketcha.“We are thrilled to be collaborating with Safaricom, especially given the current environment where we are seeing a hastened shift away from cash and toward digital payments. We are forging a new path for local payments by combining our large global network and experience with Safaricom’s local know-how and subscriber base,” said Mbiaketcha.
Launched in March 2007, M-Pesa remains one of the most powerful mobile money payment networks across the globe, with a user base of 51 million (30 million in Kenya alone). It is also arguably the most recognized fintech product across Africa through its multiple integrations including with financial firms to provide digital banking services and other partners in promoting cashless transactions. Kenya remains the most vibrant mobile money market in Africa and across the globe, with almost every adult using M-Pesa frequently to send, receive, withdraw or save money, or pay bills to merchants. This popularity has made it Safaricom’s biggest revenue earner. The telco’s latest financial announcement indicates that M-Pesa revenue grew by 38.3% to $927 million in the year ended March 2022.
Safaricom operates M-Pesa in Kenya, while South Africa’s Vodacom runs the service through its subsidiaries in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Lesotho, Ghana, and Egypt. Safaricom and Vodacom operate M-Pesa Africa as a joint venture after acquiring the M-Pesa brand and platform from their UK parent firm Vodafone Plc in April 2020. Following the Kenya launch, Visa hinted that it will forge similar partnerships across Africa, opening up a huge market for merchants tapping Africa for growth. “Visa is committed to expanding the payments ecosystem across Africa by opening up the global marketplace for every single consumer. This partnership with Safaricom is an important step in helping to achieve this,” said Mbiaketcha. Other Safaricom global partnerships include PayPal, AliExpress, and Western Union, which enable customers to receive and send money globally. As pointed out in a previous TechCrunch article, Visa has over the last few years been on a VC and partnership spree with African fintech companies having announced collaborations with payment startups Paga and Flutterwave, and invested $200 million in Nigerian financial services provider Interswtich.