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When two bulls fight, the grass always suffers! That is a saying I grew up hearing. However, when it comes to business, when two giant companies in the same industry fight (compete); often it is the consumers that always benefit.

Kenya’s mobile money landscape has changed drastically especially in the last two years. Safaricom with its M-Pesa services can be said to be the dominant player in the mobile money industry in Kenya. A position some would argue it has abused by charging high commissions on mobile money transfer and withdrawal services.

Although Safaricom is still the dominant player, its position is always being challenged by numerous players. The first player to give Safaricom sleepless nights was the commercial bank, Equity Bank with its embedded SIM card that can be placed in-between the usual SIM card and the mobile device; Thin SIM Technology.

The thin SIM technology allows Equity Bank, a commercial bank, to not only offer mobile money services (Equity Money) at an affordable rate to customers but also enables them to make/receive calls, send/receive SMS and even connect to the Internet. In other words, Equity Bank turned into a mobile service carrier overnight and was giving Safaricom a fierce run for its money on all fronts; calls, SMS, data and mobile money services.

Not forgetting that the Equity Money allows Equity Bank’s customers to send cheaply money from their mobile phones to their bank accounts cheaply and vice versa. Something not to be taken lightly given Equity Bank is the leading commercial bank in East Africa.

This week, Airtel Kenya, a long-running Safaricom’s competitor has announced that it is launching a Virtual Savings Account called Akiba Mkononi. This service is very much similar to Safaricom’s M-Shwari.

Airtel partnered with United Bank of Africa (UBA Bank) to launch Akiba Mkononi that will allow subscribers to open a bank account, save and borrow money using the Airtel Money services. Although Airtel Money users and frequency of use is a far cry from Safaricom’s M-Pesa and M-Shwari users, it is definitely a step in the right direction. As far as giving customers value addition, and it something that is bound to disrupt M-Shwari dominance given the tendency of Airtel waging price wars to undermine Safaricom’s dominance.

The Akiba Mkononi product will allow Airtel subscribers using Airtel Money to save from as low as Ksh.5 to a maximum of Ksh.140,000 per day on UBA Bank. Airtel customers can dial *368# on their Airtel number to activate the Akiba Mkononi services today.

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