01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Phone Banking in Kenya ... I'm converted!! 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Phone Banking in Kenya ... I'm converted!!

Phone banking in Kenya
So finally I have joined the ranks of Kenyan phone bankers – world leaders in this new technology. I’m feeling really quite thrilled about it - though frankly, the road to phone-to-phone banking has not been smooth (surprise, surprise) however, now I’ve done it, there’s no looking back.

For ages I agonised about how best to transfer money. Bank account-to-bank account? Would Zap be the only option for my Airtel phone provider? I finally decided to resurrect an old Safaricom phone since M-Pesa seemed the more widely used option. It’s not hard to set up, just a little time consuming, though for me there were a few reasons to finally getting on with it:

1. I felt like a total idiot and the last person in Kenya who was not only not using M-Pesa but also not fully comprehending how it worked.

2. I discovered that my bank has an arrangement with M-Pesa which means that I can transfer money from my own bank account to M-Pesa by using my mobile phone, then allocate money to pay salaries and bills via my phone too – all from the comfort of my living room (in theory).

Normally with M-Pesa you take cash to an agent who then loads your phone. In my case the plan was to take a two pronged approach: Registering for phone banking at my branch and registering for M-Pesa to avoid physically handling cash at all.

3. The amount of money for combined salaries that I now need to withdraw from the bank each month has become large and too much to do in more than one ATM withdrawal from my own bank. Honestly I felt nervous about carrying that much cash and going into the each bank was a bind. Then there’s the issue of finding the right change, buying small envelopes....

4. There have been accusations of stealing flying around our compound. Not nice. Usually our team at home work so well together but it seems that the fact that times have suddenly got very hard here since fuel and food prices skyrocketed over the past two months has had an impact.

I responded to rising costs by bumping up salaries recently but this seems to do little to alleviate the general stress. One lady lost 9,000/- from her locked room on our compound (I replaced it), another said that somebody had been in her quarters rootling about but had had nothing stolen....yet. Even the askari wants the supplies of tea and sugar I give him under lock and key. I figured the solution was for nobody to carry cash around anymore – and certainly not on this compound. That way our combined risk is reduced – I am no longer involved when money goes missing.

5. I discovered that there are loads of other bills you can pay via M-Pesa, it seemed nuts not to sign up.

6. Our neighbour who is in her sixties has been using M-Pesa for ages. If she could do it what the H*** was my excuse?!

So what happened?

The staff at our house initially resisted the M-Pesa method of receiving their salaries because they complained about being charged a lot for withdrawals. I bumped up salaries again to compensate and asked them to register for M-Pesa. Funnily enough, they were all already registered – been using the system for ages!! Duh!

First I dug out the old Safaricom phone that we had relied on when our land phone line was not working (for a year or so). Since the landline got fixed, this old Motorola has been sitting, gathering dust.

Registering your Safaricom phone for M-Pesa

First I had to check that the sim card in the old Motorola had not expired. I went to an M-Pesa/phone shop. Phew, it hadn’t. Then I bought a new, fairly basic replacement phone. Next I had to register this Safaricom number for M-Pesa. You need ID for this, either passport or an Alien card would do (thank goodness because I had the Alien card in my wallet – never carry my passport!!). The process of registering the phone was okay, the lady in the shop was very helpful. I did have to pop upstairs to do some photocopying for her and the whole process of purchasing a new phone and registering it took a good 40 minutes. Thank goodness it was on a day that there was no queue in the shop.

Registering with your bank for M-Pesa banking

I needed to fill out forms in order to be able to transfer funds to M-Pesa automatically and get my husband to sign them in duplicate (we have a joint account). Then I had to think up a password. Once I had got the forms back to the bank, it took a good week for them to get back to me to say the new system should be in place and to send me a pin.


Well first I needed to figure out how the new phone worked, though this was not difficult. The problem was that as soon as I walked into the house with a new mobile phone, my ten year old daughter pounced.

‘Can I have it?’ she asked.


Now, to give you a bit of background, my daughter has been nagging for a phone of her own for at least six months now. She’s doing half hearted chores around the house in the hopes of getting paid and tells me she’s saving for a ‘touch screen’. Callous mother that I am, I know that all the chores in China will not gather enough change for a touch screen – so I was biding my time. Having said this, the nagging had reached a crescendo.

‘Please can you take your plate out.’ (me).

‘Will you give me some money if I take it out and count it as a chore.’ (her)

‘NO!’ (me)

So, when the new phone was hanging about the house and her face was as long as next week, I softened.

‘You can borrow this phone sometimes.’ I said.

She immediately shrieked in delight, attached a Winnie the Pooh phone charm and keyed all her friends’ numbers into the phone.

‘Where is this all going?’ I hear you ask.

Well, a couple of days later when the bank sent me an sms with my private pin number in order to operate my phone banking, and the sms read ‘delete after reading’ – my daughter picked up the message – and deleted it!!

‘There was a message for you’ she said casually. ‘From the bank or something.’


‘It said delete after reading so I deleted it.’

‘What did it say the pin number was?!” I shrieked, red faced...

‘Something like 5333...but I’m not sure.’

Any-hoo – Quite a huge family argument later, when I was trying to process end of month salaries at the weekend, 5333 turned out to be the wrong pin number. I’ve now applied for a new one now (it is taking time). So, instead of my new fully phone automated system, this month I had to go to the bank (traffic on Saturday was terrible) draw money then deposit it with an M-Pesa agent. The first agent said ‘we don’t have enough float to take this’. Fortunately the one in Nakumatt was happy to take my cash. Then I went home and press, press, tap, tap, all salaries dispatched. Phew.

* there is an M-Pesa scam that my friend told me about.  You recieve a text message saying 'I mistakenly sent you 7,500/- (or whatever), please M-Pesa it back to me!'  Then you receive begging phone calls.  The friend in question was not even registered for M-Pesa so she questioned this, as you can imagine!  She went to an M-Pesa agent who told her that this was known a scam.  Only text messages with M-Pesa written at the top are bona fide - otherwise ignore sms messages like this.

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