Innovation is critical to a sustainable digital future

M-Pesa app

A smartphone user makes use of the M-Pesa app. The app is among the most popular utility apps in the country.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In Safaricom, innovation is embedded in our DNA.
  • Innovation is one of the four elements of the spirit of Safaricom.

Over the years, I have always been drawn to new methods, ideas, products and processes. Innovation has helped me to refine my worldview throughout my career and in my life.

Innovation for organisations is particularly important in order to be ahead of the ever-changing environment, to be more responsive to customers, colleagues and community needs.

In Safaricom, innovation is embedded in our DNA.

Innovation is one of the four elements of the spirit of Safaricom, alongside customer obsession, purpose and collaboration. These four elements connect and reframe our shared language of success.

Last week we had an internal FinTech Innovation Week where we brought together developers, regulators and partners to reimagine new ideas, products and processes around FinTech.

You might be wondering: why do we do this?

In 15 years, M-Pesa has served over 51 million customers in seven countries and has grown in the last five years by over 15 per cent, making it the largest FinTech platform in Africa. 

M-Pesa is a genius invention. However, we are yet to scratch the surface of its potential when leveraged as a platform that supports other FinTech ideas.

Innovation week

FinTech is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting tech adventures of our time. The pandemic showed us the intrinsic value of the sector. The FinTech Innovation Week is important to help us jointly find solutions that will lead to the next big idea; what we term internally “the next M-Pesa”.

The hybrid event brought together more than 5, 000 people from the seven M-Pesa markets across the continent, that is Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa. We explored innovations that will meet the needs of our current and future customers over the next decade. 

With increasing smartphone usage across the continent, we are transitioning to be a digital financial services provider connecting customers and businesses in a digital world.

Innovation is vital to enable this connection.

The inaugural FinTech Innovation Week was a melting pot of engaging discussions that saw 62 teams face off at the hackathon challenge. Each had an innovative digital technology idea that can be applied to optimise operations around financial services and banking. The ideas demonstrated great thinking, creativity and skills that put the customer at the centre of the solutions.

While every idea was amazing, there had to be winners. The top three included the winner, Team M-Subscriptions, who came up with a proposal to create a mini app that would allow users to manage and pay for various subscription services.

Equally, the first and second runners-up teams, Buccaneers and Team Rafiki, came up with brilliant ideas on how we can redefine our customers’ experience on our award-winning M-Pesa Super App.

Through our Agile way of working – known to foster innovation – I’m looking forward to advance some of the new FinTech solutions that will improve how we deliver value to our customers and respond to the dynamic needs of the business.

Fintech solutions

What was encouraging was the presence and involvement of the government and our regulators throughout the week. This included Hon Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs; the Central Bank of Kenya Governor, Dr Patrick Njoroge; the Director General of the Communications Authority of Kenya, Ezra Chiloba; and Commissioner, Office of the Data Protection Commission Immaculate Kassait.

Having the government and our regulators at the FinTech Innovation Week was a clear sign that our policymakers are genuinely interested in spearheading innovation in the country. 

Policy development needs to go hand in hand, and in some instances, ahead of innovation in order to foster a dynamic and responsive fintech solutions. When we come together, we create amazing opportunities.

Safaricom is committed to lead the development of digital skills with like-minded academic institutions and entities to give young people digital skills for the future and for the country. 

Additionally, we shall continue to open the M-Pesa ecosystem – which already serves FinTechs including more than 40,000 developers – to enable this community to unleash their potential and to build a digital kenya.

My takeout from the week was, the usefulness of technology does not lie in its uniqueness but in its ability to solve a pressing societal problem. While unique is good, a functional solution that solves a societal problem is better.

As a sustainable business, we do not innovate simply because we have the resources but because we want to combine technology and innovation to transform lives and the society.

The writer is the CEO at Safaricom PLC