Within every challenge lies an opportunity waiting to be seized and businesses know this too well.
For a long time, social media channels including WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, and Facebook were mainly for banter and catchup among family and friends.
The channels then gradually transformed into platforms for side-hustle businesses for individuals owing to their convenience. Employers and corporates quickly took notice of this and joined the fray—turning these platforms into extensions of work offices and marketplaces for goods and services.
In Kenya, the WhatsApp platform has particularly become mainstream even for business. Many Kenyans who lost their jobs due to the economic fallout of the Covid-19 have gone big on entrepreneurship and changed their WhatsApp status into shopfronts displaying an array of second-hand clothes, distressed properties, utensils, and even groceries for online orders and free delivery to doorsteps.
But it is big corporates looking to get to their clients who turn to their mobile phone screens first thing in the morning and every 15 minutes for the rest of the day that is shaping the use of WhatsApp as a market.
Kenyans especially the youth are addicted to WhatsApp and corporates savour the opportunity to go where the crowds are.
According to Statista, Kenya has the highest percentage of monthly WhatsApp users compared to the rest of the world, with an astonishing 97 percent of internet users who use WhatsApp every month.
It is ahead of South Africa- 96 percent, populous Nigeria- 95 percent, and Argentina at 93 percent.
This has made WhatsApp Business, the ultimate platform for conversational customer support and Kenya as the testing ground for the increased corporate invasion of the social media platform.
From informal small businesses selling clothes and utensils, banks, insurance companies, and now pension firms are scrambling for the eyeball on WhatsApp, seeking a direct link to customers.
Last week, Zamara Group expanded its digital pension plan Fahari Retirement to allow users to access it on the online messaging app WhatsApp.
“We are using a channel that more than 12 million Kenyans use. This is the app we use to communicate with our friends, family and connect with brands and businesses. Now you can use WhatsApp to enroll, join a pension plan, save and take out insurance,” Zamara Group chief executive Sundeep Raichura said.
The pension firm targets to grow its customer base for its retirement products, especially in the informal sector.
“People don’t take pensions and insurance because they fear there will be penalties. This is the first such plan in Kenya. There is no compulsion, it has insurance embedded and penalty-free access because currently, every other product has a penalty on access.”Mr Raichura added.
Fahari Retirement Plan allows individuals to save as low as Sh20 daily or Sh300 monthly. They can access the funds after 50 years in a lump sum or as regular income. Customers are also allowed to withdraw their savings anytime without penalty.
It has embedded an insurance funeral cover of Sh25,000.
Absa Bank launched Abby, a WhatsApp female robot that can talk to its customers just like a real human takes them through banking solutions 24 hours, seven days a week.
The intelligent virtual assistant can facilitate transactions and other personalised services like sending customers notifications, informing them about their balances, facilitating airtime purchases, making recommendations for lowering expenditure, and providing updates on things like credit reports.
The use of the WhatsApp channel is relatively new in banking with few lenders adopting the platform owned by Facebook including UBA Bank’s Leo and Housing Finance which partnered with Infobip, the global cloud communication company for businesses, and Wayawaya, Kocela, and Myriad to offer the service.
Insurance companies were among the first adopters with Jubilee Insurance launching dedicated lines for WhatsApp use in 2014 to communicate with their customers.
The insurance company has dedicated a team to answer all queries received via WhatsApp, similar to what they do with their other online platforms.
The use of WhatsApp also allows users who constantly travel outside the country to keep in touch with the insurer without having to worry about tariff charges for long-distance calls.
WhatsApp Business has major advantages for corporate clients allowing automation, machine learning, and use of a chatbot in place of customer care assistants.
Companies can use interactive templates that use buttons with pre-defined answers and include a chatbot to handle recurring jobs before handing them over to a customer support consultant.
Absa said its Chabot is fitted with Artificial Intelligence-AI and can interact with customers, send notifications and give updates of product offers and credit reports.
“Essentially, we are transforming banking from being a series of complex transactions into a simple conversation on WhatsApp. We have shaped a rich history as a bank of many firsts and today we are excited to continue on this streak of innovation,” said Absa Bank Kenya Managing Director Jeremy Awori.
While customers are wary about the security of digital platforms, Absa says their WhatsApp channel sits on a sophisticated technology with many layers of authentication, making it as safe and secure as any other banking channel.