Overview: a fresh new mobile ledger app for the M-Pesa user

There is no shortage of apps you can turn to if you want your M-Pesa record keeping to get better. I have been using M-Ledger since 2013, when it was still under Dynamic Data Systems before Safaricom acquired it and rebranded it to Safaricom M-Ledger. I even remember paying over Kshs 200 for the premium features of the app (like storing my data so that it can be synced to any other device I was using or restored in the event I uninstalled the app) at some point. Not many people seem to remember that. Of course, M-Ledger became free after big green’s acquisition.

While Safaricom M-Ledger continues to be a useful application I turn to from time to time (particularly for its cost calculator because my frugal self always needs to know what I am spending), another application that has been around for just a month, Overview, has since caught my eye. I encountered it through an Instagram ad one night when my insomniac self was wondering online, double-tapping anything I deemed likeable. It has not disappointed.

Its makers, a trio of brothers, Henri, Hans and Charles, operating from Brussels, Belgium, describe Overview as “an Android personal finance management app that enriches your mobile payment services… a diary of your finances.”

Throughout my one month usage of the app, I have found it to pretty much live up to that description.

Overview finance app

How it works

Upon installing the Overview app, one starts using it after signing in. This can be done in two ways: using Facebook or Google. I used the latter on at least two devices and it was immediately able to remember me when I logged in on the second device.

Like other similar applications available on the Google Play Store, Overview will only help a user get an overview of their finances as transacted via mobile money platforms if it has access to the user’s SMSs. Overview uses transaction text messages to extract the data it needs to make sense of one’s daily, weekly and monthly habits. It then organizes this information nicely in an easy to digest way.

I usually back up all my text messages and move with them from device to device and Overview has not disappointed when it came to importing all of them and making sense of all that data spanning several years. The end result has been a series of interesting charts that show my spending over the years.

Other than having to open the app to get a quick glance/overview of one’s finances, one is notified everytime they make a mobile money transaction. Buy airtime via M-Pesa for your Safaricom line? You’ll get a notification from Overview in the Android notification shade as soon as M-Pesa delivers the SMS notification. You won’t even need to click through the SMS notification to confirm if indeed things went as planned since Overview gives an overview of everything you need to know at that time. How apt!

Clicking on the Overview notification when a transaction has been made results in an Overview transaction window opening (in the app) from which one can change the transaction’s category in case Overview has logged the wrong category or didn’t log any particular category at all, something that I had to do all the time since Overview has no idea that the likes of Nakumatt, Naivas, Tuskys and Uchumi are supermarkets. I had to manually assign transactions made at those outlets to their appropriate category (mostly groceries or shopping).

Features

First things first, the one thing that anyone will notice and be attracted to, is Overview’s clean look. The interface is less busy/cluttered and more organized. Bar the side menu bar which contains useful shortcuts, everything is organized under three simple tabs: Home, Movements and Wallets.

Overview finance app

Home is where all transactions, in their order of occurrence, are logged.

Movements is where some sense is made of all the logged transactions. They are categorized appropriately to give the user a sneak peek of where their money has been going; to people (peer-to-peer), savings, shopping, paying bills, enriching mobile network operators buying airtime and paying for mobile money transactions, etc. Talking about categorization, there is a gambling category just for those who are hooked on the gambling craze that has hit the country.

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Overview finance app - wallets

Wallets is where the various wallets that Overview tracks, as a result of reading mobile money transaction text messages, are listed. Use Airtel Money? This is where all your transactions will show up. The same for M-PESA, M-Shwari and KCB, even though I never had any luck with the app registering my transactions on the latter.

My best feature of the Overview app is the free messages that one can send immediately after making a peer-to-peer transaction. Like someone was quoted famously saying, we (Kenyans) have peculiar habits. It is common practice to call or text the person to whom you have sent some money via M-Pesa just to confirm if indeed, pesa imefika (the money got to them). The vice versa also happens. This is despite the fact that each of the transacting parties gets an SMS notification from M-Pesa. Kenyans!

In light of this, immediately after one receives or sends some money, by clicking the transaction log in the Overview app or through the notification that Overview sends, they are able to send a free text message to either the sender or the recipient. A caveat: the free text is only available once per transaction and unlike normal SMS which take up to 160 characters, it only allows half that, 80 characters.

Quick notes

  • M-Pesa is simply how Kenya runs today. If just a tiny fraction of M-Pesa users with smartphones installed the Overview app, this would mean huge amounts of data being left in the hands of someone else. A third party. This, in itself, is a huge risk that one needs to take a step back and ponder. Such data is what mobile lending applications like Tala and Branch and even Safaricom’s own M-Shwari are using to compute one’s creditworthiness. Is it just fine to just hand it over, like that? The Overview team has gone to great lengths to dispel any such concerns by outlining its privacy policy as well as providing a rather detailed run down of how it uses and stores any data it collects.
  • Overview is a good application. It is hard to ask for so much more from a one-month old app that is as well done as Overview is but it needs to keep growing over the next couple of months to become the great app that it can be. A little intelligence won’t hurt. I’d love Overview to properly categorize any payments I make to Little Ride after a cab ride, Modern Coast or JamboJet before a trip home as transport expenses, know that I am doing shopping anytime Naivas or Uchumi pops up in my M-Pesa transaction texts, etc.Overview finance app - categorization
  • While it requires some careful balancing in order to appease users like me who desire the feature and others who will cringe at the first mention of it for privacy reasons, Overview should explore ways to make it easy for me to have all my transaction data everywhere I go i.e. even when I switch devices. This can be done via some cloud syncing (I know, privacy) or giving users access to a tool that allows them to export and import transactions.
  • For an application targeting Kenyans, isn’t it quite a stretch that the customer support would be based anywhere else but Kenya? I posed that question to Henri-Jérôme Pauwels, the app’s developer. He replied, “For the time being we are doing the customer service from Belgium. Nevertheless, we are proud to say that our Overview Kenya Facebook community is growing quickly and members are helping each other with tips and tricks. We are reassessing the need for a local customer service office in Nairobi on a regular basis and will set one up as soon as we see the need.”
  • Additionally, in a bid to enhance privacy, users can block out figures from being displayed in the app by toggling on the “Hide amounts” feature in the slide out menu. Sadly, at the moment, that is the only feature that one can use to make sure anyone picking their smartphone and opens the Overview app does not have a quick glimpse at how broke they are. This is because one of Overview’s touted features on its press page, a PIN code lock, is not yet live. According to Henri, the feature is coming soon. For now, users either have to make sure any person they hand their phone doesn’t wander away to the app or use one of the many app locker apps available on the Play Store.
  • Users can look forward to several other new features coming to the app other than a PIN code and integration with more local banks. According to Henri, manual cash tracking and reminders for savings are also on the way, alongside other features that they are not ready to announce at this time.
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Pros

  • Good user interface. Clean and easy to navigate.
  • One need not spend extra money calling or texting the sender or recipient of a mobile money transfer. They can text them for free from the Overview app.
  • It works for other mobile money services other than M-Pesa as well. Airtel Money transactions are also logged by the app.
  • The app is “always on”. It lurks in the background monitoring any new transactions and logging them. As such, unlike in M-Ledger where you have to hit the Refresh & Sync button to get the up-to-date state of things, things are always up to date on Overview. Fresh.
  • The detailed notifications after every mobile money transaction are a nice touch and totally eliminate the need to open the SMS app.
  • The inclusion of easy tracking of transaction fees is also a nice touch. It helps one see how much money they are spending on transactions. It has helped me try to keep such as low as possible and make better decisions on how I send or withdraw money using M-Pesa.

Cons

  • Despite actively using KCB M-Pesa since I have been reviewing KCB’s newly updated app and been getting those transaction texts, they still don’t show up in Overview.
  • While Overview does log M-Shwari deposits and withdrawals, it still doesn’t log some M-Shwari transactions, as I found out. Like when you opt to settle your M-Shwari loan from money in your M-Shwari account (yep, that’s totally possible). That isn’t registered by the app.
  • There is no PIN code, anyone who launches the app has access to my financial transaction history data, unless I take the extra step of downloading and setting up an app locker, something I have not done in years and which ordinary users are unlikely to.
  • Support for more financial institutions and mobile money services/facilities is needed. KCB is the only bank supported, and as already stated above, there are issues with that. According to the app’s developer, integrations with other banks including Equity, are on the way. Great!
  • Unlike Safaricom’s M-Ledger which displays the latest balance front and centre when you open the app, Overview doesn’t do it that way. It displays the latest transaction first. One has to click the Wallet tab to view their balance. While this is not such a bad thing, I have become spoilt by the way the Equity Bank Eazzy app has my account balance staring at me the moment I open the app. I know I am perennially broke so just show it to me straight up. Oh, and M-Ledger, takes matters into its own hands and shows me the total amount of money I have spent since it started tracking my M-Pesa transactions. Will it be asking for so much if I expected the same from Overview?

While Overview manages to make M-Ledger look like an application from the middle ages, you will still need both since the latter remains superior and with more features – a calculator, a Paybill number search tool, a sync, backup and restore feature etc. If anything, the focus of the two apps while seemingly similar for the most part, it is different, at least from where I sit. M-Ledger previously used to let users export their data as a CSV sheet but has since been stripped of that feature. Maybe that’s something Overview can give us now that we’re already entrusting the app with our most valued data?

Download Overview from the Play Store.

Emmanuel Chenze

Let's just say I know my stuff. I have 7 years experience handling, tinkering with and then writing extensively about Android stuff. Sometimes it is exciting, sometimes it is not; things can get stale with nothing new to show but I live for each one of those moments. Have something Android-related that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze@androidkenya.com