Four years after building the mechanism for a unified billing system for basic government services such as payment on electricity and water in ‘Lehulu’ in a pioneering private-public-partnership (PPP) Kifiya Financial Technology is teaming up with MasterCard to launch an ambitious plan to integrate and serve an ever-expanding Ethiopian diaspora in a digital driven way.
This new partnership coincided with the digital Ethiopia conference that runs until tomorrow and where one of the key themes discussed was digital finance. Kifiya hopes the new partnership will produce an affordable and convenient way to serve international clients.
At the conference, there was a concentrated discussion on an industry that is fast becoming fragmented that is being pushed by various players. The key theme was the need to develop the ecosystem in Ethiopia that connects various stakeholders in the digital payment space.
Munir Duri of Kifiya and Lehulu was a moderator and hosted industry players such as Amaha Bekele of Deloitte and Peter Gichangi from Safaricom. The gathering heard the noted successes from the East African region specifically of Mpesa, the global renowned mobile payment platform in Kenya were explained. With individuals and the fintechs and financial institutions driving their own agenda, industry experts raised their concern around getting an oversight committee to drive the strategic direction the country should be driving.
It was noted how cash is still the conventional method of payment in Ethiopia where 95 percent of the population still uses.
The new partnership of Kifiya and MasterCard was one of the most talked about topic at the conference. Industry experts are challenging why the company is choosing to team up with one of the leading technology companies in the world, blocking banks that do not issue MasterCard cards from being players in the remittance industry now worth billions. Some are also voicing concern the need for an international clearing route, when Ethiopia has just launched a national switch in the country.
“MasterCard and digital financial service provider Kifiya has partnered to introduce first of its kind consumer to business remittance to pay digital payment platform focusing on Africa with the first toll out in Ethiopia,” Kifiya said.
However, while the company preached of cash-less society, it still only accepts cash as a payment.
“Lehulu experience is not a success. Basically it has been done to facilitate and avoid queue in public institutions. But what were done was just the locations but the queue remained,” an observer at the conference told The Reporter. No technology has been introduced that have changed the clients’ experience.”
Some are also questioning why banks and financial institutions such as Premier Switch Solutions (PSS) or Eth-Switch still not allowed to process utility payments. The new system is also authorizing Kifiya to partake in the remittance business that was once monopolized by banks and not any other private institutions.
“The merchants are all required by the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA) to have electronic cash register with internet connection, so a part of the infrastructure is already there,” an industry player told The Reporter. “Why don't we encourage added values creations to the merchants so that we can build our next financial ecosystem instead of going for specific agents? ERCA as main stakeholder should push for this type of innovation,” he said.
“There will be changes coming to Lehulu and we will soon be accepting digital payment in three months,” Elfagid Aregahegne, digital payment manager at Kifiya, told The Reporter. “There has been a new eco-system allowing us to move forward with new method of payments.”
“Customer adoption, development of telecom infrastructures and banks investment in technology which will allow Lehulu to move towards digital payment,” he said.