Earlier this year Rob Shuter (head of Nedbank Retail) resigned from Nedbank and joined Vodacom as Financial Director. It was an exciting move from my perspective as I watch mobile phone companies (and technology in general) redefine how we do business. Not necessarily the companies, but users who adapt the technology to find innovative ways to run their businesses differently. The big question I was asking was what happens when someone with intimate retail banking knowledge and experience (especially of Shuter’s profile) gets a significant position at a mobile phone company? What happens after what comes next?

I’ve not seen anything obvious in the press, and have quite possibly missed it, but this week a couple of pieces of the puzzle dropped into place. Enter M-Pesa.

M-Pesa is an amazing Kenyan innovation, and describe themselves as:

M-PESA is a Safaricom service allowing you to transfer money using a mobile phone. Kenya is the first country in the world to use this service, which is offered in partnership between Safaricom and Vodafone. M-PESA is available to all Safaricom subscribers (Prepay and Postpay), even if you do not have a bank account. Registration is FREE and available at any M-PESA Agent countrywide. The M-PESA application is installed on your SIM card and works on all makes of handsets.

My sources suggest that M-Pesa has radically transformed the banking space in Kenya and left the banks flat-footed and out of the equation. Around 15 million people use M-Pesa to transfer money and make payments. Kenyan banks (collectively) have a third of this number as customers. M-Pesa has transformed banking access to the previously un-banked, who are found predominately in rural areas in Kenya. Areas that traditional banks have little to no access to.

The person I spoke to this week had some of the following to say about M-Pesa:

M-Pesa has made the sim card more valuable than a credit card.

M-Pesa is transforming how aid is distributed within Kenya.

M-Pesa has fundamentally re-defined the banking space.

Kenyan banks have not found an ‘anti-dote’ to M-Pesa’s presense, and possibly wont or can’t, simply because they’re unable to redefine themselves.

Maybe a little over-enthusiastic. But the hype and the numbers do confirm his thoughts.

Enter Shuter, Vodacom and Nedbank….

What if Vodacom’s next move is to bring M-Pesa to South Africa? Both Safaricom (M-Pesa’s master) and Vodacom are subsidiaries of Vodaphone. Certainly they have someone with huge retail banking experience in Shuter, and he has intimate knowledge and I imagine a solid relationship with Nedbank.

What if? Watch this space. This may be what happens after what comes next…..

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