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Ethiopia’s fintech infrastructure is improving with the soft launch of Safaricom Ethiopia’s mobile financial service M-PESA, which boasts 51 million customers across Africa, in Addis Ababa, on August 16, 2023. The service expects to make a full national launch in September.

M-PESA Launches in Ethiopia

By Andrew Larsen and Nuhili Girma | Wed Sep 06 2023
Photo courtesy of Andrew Larsen
Ethiopia’s fintech ecosystem has lagged behind its neighbors in recent years as a result of Investment Proclamation 1180’s ban on foreign investment in the sector among other factors. However, in May 2023, this prohibition was waived to allow M-PESA, a mobile money platform with 51 million customers and owned by Kenya’s Safaricom, to operate in Ethiopia for a licensing fee of $150M USD. For context, according to Africa: The Big Deal Database, while Kenyan fintech startups have raised $517.8M since 2019, Ethiopian fintech startups have only raised $17.6M. This disparity results in Kenya having raised 67.6x more capital for fintech on a per capita basis than the Ethiopian market, underscoring the disparity.

 Kenyan fintech startups have attracted more than 67x more capital per capita than Ethiopia.
Source: Renew Capital's analysis of publicly disclosed deals in startups since 2019 captured in “Africa: The Big Deal Database.”
After a three-month pilot test, M-PESA has announced it is launching and joining Ethiopia’s mobile money market as a competitor to the state-owned Ethio Telecom’s flagship financial mobile money service provider, Telebirr. M-PESA is now available for Safaricom Ethiopia’s 4M customers. For context, Safaricom Ethiopia has been expanding its network across 147 towns in Ethiopia over the past 10 months.
However, customer acquisition will likely remain challenging for M-PESA. Telebirr, the Ethiopian government-owned mobile money service, had a two-year head start, launching initially in May 2021 and introducing a super-app version in March 2023, which provides users with access to a large assortment of services within the app's single interface. The app now provides eCommerce options, food delivery, entertainment, utility bill payment options and transportation payment options. The Telebirr App currently owns over 20 mini apps and is also providing benefits to the startup ecosystem by allowing local Ethiopian startups access to the app's user base of over 30 million users. 
Moreover, in April 2023, the Ethiopian government began requiring fuel payments to be completed using Ethiotelecom's Mobile Money app, Telebirr. This further entrenched Telebirr’s position as the market leader in mobile money in Ethiopia just one month before the Ethiopian government awarded M-PESA its license to operate.
Similarly, in April 2023, Chapa, one of Ethiopia's leading online payment providers, announced that it would be teaming up with Telegram to enable merchants using Telegram to accept payments from their customers using a Chapa integration. Thousands of businesses throughout Ethiopia are already selling products through the messaging app; this partnership allows those merchants to accept payments from their customers using mobile money, bank transfers, or debit/credit cards without leaving the app. Importantly, as of August 15, 2023, Chapa partnered with  COOP Bank to launch the Coop-Chapagram bot integration that operates within Telegram. The feature allows users to access numerous financial services through the Telegram application, according to COOP Bank. 
Safaricom’s presence in multiple African countries might be the competitive advantage M-PESA brings to the market that has been monopolized by the state-owned service provider, Telebirr. If commerce is facilitated between the countries in which M-PESA has a presence, it could also end up becoming an asset for the AfCFTA.
In summary, the entry of M-PESA into Ethiopia is a crucial next step in increasing financial access and inclusion in Ethiopia, where approximately 78% of the population lives in rural areas. For example, according to the World Bank, only 35% of adults in Ethiopia have access to formal bank accounts. Comparatively, in Kenya, 82% of adults have an account, while in Rwanda, 50% of adults reported having a formal bank account. In sub-Saharan Africa overall, 43% of adults have an account. Increasing the number of mobile money payment services can help to increase access to finance for rural populations and others throughout Ethiopia. Finally, the market competition between M-PESA and Telebirr will help to increase the quality of service provision between the two companies as they compete for market share, a generally good free market outcome.
Renew Capital is an Africa-focused impact investment firm that backs innovative companies with high-growth potential. Renew Capital manages investments made on behalf of the Renew Capital Angels, a global network of angel investors, foundations and family offices who seek financial returns and sustainable social impact. For the latest on investing in Africa, subscribe and follow us at our social links below.

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