Safaricom, Kenya’s leading telco, will no longer allow customers to send money to unregistered individuals on M-PESA, its mobile money service. The move will also affect unregistered mobile money users on Airtel Money and T-Kash. T-Kash is a mobile money product run by Kenya’s third-largest operator, Telkom.

Per a statement shared by the carrier on its X account, M-PESA users “will no longer be able to send and receive money across different mobile money providers such as Airtel and T-Kash.”

Before now, M-PESA  allowed customers to send money to unregistered Safaricom customers. Customers without registered M-PESA accounts are considered unregistered.

While M-PESA did not explain the reason for today’s rule change, one theory is that it is linked to security. Unregistered SIM cards allow the movement of mobile money that are sometimes untraceable. 

In the last three years, state agencies have attempted to address M-PESA’s dominance in Kenya. Mobile money subscriptions, which stood at 38.1 million in September 2023, are primarily led by Safaricom’s M-PESA. In Q2 2023, M-PESA’s market share was at 96.5%, followed by Airtel Money at 3.4%, and T-Kash at 0.1%.

Amid calls to declare M-PESA a dominant player in the market, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) called for mobile money interoperability; besides sending money across the platforms, merchant and paybill services were also made interoperable in 2022. However, the changes have not accelerated the adoption of Airtel Money and T-Kash, likely because of their small agency network (where customers go to withdraw and deposit cash).

M-PESA has also been struggling with inconsistent service availability over the last few days amid customer complaints across multiple social media platforms. The telco has not been upfront about the cause of the outages, a departure from its customer-first policy that made it an attractive operator to millions of Kenyans.

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