The family of newly elected Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta hold the major stake in CBA, which provides the banking infrastructure for M-Shwari.
Currently, even with its slightly over US$1 billion asset base, it is still some distance away from east Africa’s largest banks, such as Equity Bank, Cooperative Bank and the Kenya Commercial Bank.
“In a matter of years, through the sheer volume of transactions that they will be handling on a daily basis, CBA may become a banking powerhouse in the region,” Barasa said.
Policy analysts believe that the biggest winners from the M-Shwari service will be those in the market previously thought unbankable, due to its meagre savings and individuals located in remote, inaccessible parts of the country.
“This will greatly change our lives. You can access credit from any part of the country,” said Abbas Godana, a school teacher in Kenya’s remote eastern Tana River District.
Godana’s village, Cha Mwana Muma, is about 30km from the nearest shopping center in which his bank operates a branch — which, in the impoverished coastal area, where roads are virtually nonexistent, can take a whole day to travel.
In February, three months after its launch, transactions on M-Shwari crossed the US$35 million mark, with 1.6 million customers having used the service for deposits or loans.
M-Shwari was not the first: Telecommunications company Bharti Airtel, an Indian-owned firm, launched a similar product last year known as Kopa Chapaa — Swahili for “borrow money” — but the product has not had as much impact.
Smaller micro-credit loan companies have also set up similar schemes.
However, “Safaricom has the numbers,” Barasa said.