Super apps offering access to multiple digital services on one platform are already huge in parts of Asia. But they’ve yet to take off in many other parts of the world.
China’s Alipay has more than 700 million users, while WeChat has over one billion, offering users a vast array of services, from ordering a pizza to paying their bills, planning a vacation and even finding a dream house. But most of these services are only available in China.
Last year, South African communications company Vodacom announced it was partnering with Alipay, part of China’s Alibaba group, to create a super app that will provide multiple financial services. Integrating with its VodaPay app, Vodacom says the new service will let users pay utility bills and transfer money, as well as connecting them with online merchants and suppliers.
Vodacom has experience with mobile money products, and operates Kenyan platform M-Pesa in several African countries, but the new app will offer a raft of new services, as well as lifestyle features such as ride hailing and music streaming.
Vodacom’s Group CEO Shameel Joosub recently spoke with CNN’s Eleni Giokos about the evolution of the company and its plans for the super app.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Eleni Giokos: What does Vodacom plan to do to evolve into a pan-African tech player?
Shameel Joosub: We’re in the business of connectivity, so it’s evolving from mobile connectivity into fiber and even into connectivity from space. I think there are a lot of developments in the financial services space. We’re quite a large player with more than 55 million customers buying a financial service product from us across the continent. Mainly the big focus is to connect the next 100 million people, but also to drive both digital inclusion and financial inclusion.
EG: What kind of metrics are you targeting in the next 24 months?
SJ: On the telco [telecommunications] side, it’s about 5G and really being able to provide connectivity to everyone. Secondly, it’s in the financial services space and bringing through all our different activities into a super app, a lifestyle app, from where you can pay, from where you can shop, from where you can save, from where you can invest. That will start off with the launch of the Alipay app in South Africa this year, which we will call VodaPay.
EG: Why did you feel that you needed to team up with Alibaba to launch a product like this?
SJ: We moved $24.2 billion a month through the M-Pesa platform, but when we looked around the world, we were quite excited when we saw what Alipay was doing. We saw it almost as an evolution from the success that we’ve had and how they managed to bring everything together on the back of a smartphone.
EG: In terms of banking the unbanked, looking at the people in rural areas, and equipping budding entrepreneurs in villages – accessibility is important, but what else within the fintech [financial technology] space will transform the way that we live in Africa?
SJ: I think the super apps play a big part, right? Because what you are giving people is the ability to sell their products online. What you’re now doing is giving merchants the ability to sell their products to a much wider customer base. So an example in South Africa, by launching the app, if you expose your product, you’re exposing it to all 44 million customers that we have in South Africa.
EG: Tell me about how you link businesses together and the potential when you can link a business that is operating in Kenya to someone in Nigeria.
SJ: With the VodaPay platform, as we call it, it’s creating the opportunity for you to trade way beyond your geographical area.
Before, if you had a physical store, you were limited to a certain geography. What this does, is it opens it up, firstly, within that country, but also, there’s no reason why someone sitting in Nigeria cannot supply someone in Kenya, provided you just get your logistics right. That’s the big part of [what] digitization gives you, moving into this new world of e-com[merce] where you can trade almost anywhere.