Safaricom’s ‘Lipa Na M-Pesa’ gets speedier and more privacy-focused

If you’re like most Kenyans then you’ve probably paid for goods or services using popular mobile money service M-Pesa. Given how popular M-Pesa had become for making payments, a use case that deviated from the envisioned peer-to-peer transfers, Safaricom then came up with Lipa Na M-Pesa which consolidated the then popular Pay Bill option and a new offering, Buy Goods & Services, under one roof.

The end result has been a mind-blowing contribution to the overall M-Pesa revenue by almost 50% as of September 2019, the first half of Safaricom’s financial year.

While the high uptake of Lipa Na M-Pesa, which has now become ubiquitous with mobile payments in the country, cannot be disputed, that it has also had several letdowns and loopholes in terms of functionality cannot be ignored.

For starters, there have been several privacy concerns raised as to how the system operates. For instance, in most cases where users pay for goods and/or services using M-Pesa, they have to share the confirmation message they receive from the system with the merchant. In most retail outlets, more so the packed ones where it is not convenient (or even safe) for the customer to hand over their mobile phone to the person on the cash register, what usually happens is that the customer just reads out loud the confirmation code.

Given that the confirmation codes consist of alphanumerics that don’t make sense to the user and are hard to memorize, the fallback option that has been adopted almost universally has been to use the MSISDNs (actual mobile phone numbers). This has brought with it a huge privacy debate as anyone near, like the next person in line at a busy supermarket, can easily know a stranger’s number and God knows what they can do with that information, as @alkags captured it very well back in June.

This is why it’s interesting to note that Safaricom has since moved to remedy the situation.

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Going forward, “… When a cashier selects M-PESA as a mode of payment, the merchant system will reconcile the amount to the latest Lipa Na M-PESA payment received, eliminating the need for the customer to give their mobile phone number or show a payment confirmation message,” notes Safaricom in a statement to newsrooms sent yesterday.

This will be achieved by taking an approach that is quite different from what is there at the moment where you find there is one till number for an entire business’ operations. Like you find that a supermarket that has something like, say, 10 tills, has one Lipa Na M-Pesa Till Number, complicating matters for both the merchant and the customers and thus requiring the tedious and less private process described above in order to verify payment. Going forward, each till gets to have its own Lipa Na M-Pesa Till Number.

This will be so for the 2,500 merchants who have more than one Lipa Na M-Pesa payment point out of the over 100,000 active Lipa Na M-Pesa merchants.

The jury is still out on whether this latest move, one of many made over the last one year, will improve the efficiency of the entire payment process, which is what Safaricom believes the latest update to Lipa Na M-Pesa will do.

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