Orange has agreed partnerships with African banks to expand its mobile money services across the region to try to match the popularity of Vodafone’s M-Pesa.
The French telecoms group has struck a first deal with Bank of Africa that will allow customers to transfer money between their Orange Money account and their bank account with a mobile phone.
A similar deal is expected to be struck with Ecobank and other regional banks, according to Marc Rennard, executive vice-president of Orange, as it expands its financial services in Africa – reports The FT.
Orange customers can use mobiles to transfer money between people and pay for goods and services, which is seen as important in countries where many people do not have easy access to banks. Vodafone’s M-Pesa, which offers a similar service, has become so popular in Kenya that it has come to act as a quasi-currency.
Orange said the partnership with Bank of Africa was the first step in a range of innovative financial services that will be developed.
The banking service will available in Madagascar, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Orange Money has 11.5m customers, who made €2.2bn of transactions in 2013.
Mr Rennard said Orange’s African and Middle Eastern business, which spans more than 20 countries and 106m customers, was going to be at the heart of the five-yearly strategic vision being developed by the group’s management. The plans – called Orange 20/20 – will be revealed at the end of the year.
Analysts have questioned whether Africa could be split off from the French telecoms group, although the region still offers the fastest growth given comparatively sluggish European markets.
Mr Rennard said that the group wanted to buy either licenses or businesses to expand in other African countries, citing Mauritania and Togo, although he added that Orange was also considering a sale or partnership for its business in Kenya.
He said that Africa was still a source of growth for telecoms groups, with the acceleration of smartphone use offering opportunities to reach customers with their first access to the internet.
Orange has rolled out services designed to win customers in poorer countries. Mr Rennard pointed to the success of Orange Emergency Credit, which offers a small loan to customers to use their phones in an emergency once they have run out of prepaid credit. The service has made 3bn loan transactions to 20m active users.