Equity Bank on Wednesday restored mobile money withdrawals from its Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), after a two-day lockout that left millions of Safaricom's M-Pesa, Orange Money and Yu subscribers unable to access their money.
The consumers, who have been accessing their mobile money through the lender’s ATMs, were until mid-day Wednesday unable to withdraw cash from the machines that immediately cancelled all such requests.
Safaricom confirmed that the service had been deactivated on Monday though no explanation had come from Equity Bank. The services resumed Wednesday in the afternoon but Equity maintained that no such outage had occurred.
“The service was deactivated Monday although we have had no official communication from Equity,” Bob Collymore, Safaricom chief executive said.
Equity has more than 620 ATMs and 7,700 agents in East Africa that Kenyan’s four mobile operators, Safaricom, Airtel, yuMobile and Orange have been riding on to fill in any gaps in their agency networks and to boost cash flow in the system.
Through the ATMs, Equity subscribers can also withdraw money from their bank accounts and transfer it to a mobile account.
Other than withdrawing money, the cash machines also enable Equity Bank account holders to buy airtime from Safaricom, Orange, Airtel or yuMobile.
Safaricom runs an 85,000 M-Pesa agency network that is supported by multiple agreements with commercial banks, including Equity, to service its 18.1 million mobile money users.
The large agency network that makes it easy for subscribers to deposit and withdraw cash is seen to be a key ingredient of the success that Safaricom has had in positioning M-Pesa at the centre of Kenya’s payment system.
Safaricom’s rivals Airtel, Orange and yuMobile have a relatively smaller number of agents, a challenge that has forced them to rely heavily on agreements with commercial banks such as Equity.
The skewed market landscape saw Airtel petition the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) seeking orders compelling Safaricom to open up its agency network.
There is concern among consumers that Equity’s two-day lockout, if extended, could reverse any efforts made by the small telecoms operators to challenge Safaricom’s dominance of the mobile money market and make them the first casualty of the looming battle for control of the lucrative segment of the telecoms business.
The article first appeared in The Business Daily