Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest telecoms company, is piloting a social messaging app that will link to its mobile money platform.
This is an attempt to move the company into the application business, the company said on Tuesday.
Bonga, meaning ‘chat’ in Kiswahili, will be integrated with the company’s popular financial services platform M-Pesa to enable the almost 28 million of its users to communicate beyond sending money to one another, transforming the platform into a type of social network.
The idea stems from the “hypothesis that there’s an intricate connection between conversations and transactions, payments especially,” Kamal Bhattacharya, Chief Innovation Officer at Safaricom, said in a telephone interview.
“It’s one thing to share information with somebody. It’s another thing to make a payment, to send money to somebody,” he said.
Bhattacharya said that M-Pesa users will be able to message each other on Bonga in three ways: user-to-user, user-to-business and fundraising through “social groups” much like the group function on WhatsApp.
The concept has similarities with China’s top social messaging app WeChat, where users can perform a variety of tasks, from payments to ride-hailing, without leaving the platform.
Bonga is the first product launched by Safaricom’s innovation incubator Alpha. Bhattacharya previously set up IBM’s research lab in Africa and joined the company in 2017.
Safaricom is piloting Bonga internally before planning to launch later this year.