TeleBirr is finally here
Ethiopia's sole mobile operator, Ethio Telecom has been working on a mobile money and payment solution for the past two years. After the National bank of Ethiopia issued a new directive last year, Ethio Telecom was able to release its platform now.
Ethiopia's sole mobile operator, Ethio Telecom has been working on a mobile money and payment solution for the past two years. After the National bank of Ethiopia issued a new directive last year, Ethio Telecom was able to release its platform now. The mobile money service is similar to M-PESA, the Kenyan-based mobile money service, and is expected to offer an alternative to the current inefficient banking system.
TeleBirr is Ethiopia’s first mobile financial service and seems likely to remain as the only one for the next year. Ethio Telecom has a very good lead in the industry based on the resources and the ease of market penetration.
Ethio Telecom has over 50 million users and they expect 21 million of those users to use TeleBirr in the first year of operations. TeleBirr’s development was done by the Chinese Tech Huawei. This has raised a bit of a concern since this platform is a financial platform and is expected to be used by millions of Ethiopians. And after seeing the allegations Huawei has faced over the last two years, some might argue if involving this corporation in such a large financial platform was the right decision. I personally would have preferred if the platform was developed locally.
TeleBirr has been launched on three platforms which are the Android, iOS apps, and a USSD application. This gives users a great variety of choices and USSD is very important since a large share of the mobile users uses a feature phone. I have downloaded and tested the iOS app, and it performs well apart from some minor bugs here and there. I expect these bugs to be fixed in the near future updates. The app looks fairly good but could be much better especially considering the resources and corporations backing it.
Ethio Telecom did not announce any public API for developers to integrate TeleBirr into their app. This is a very important part of the puzzle to make a significant change in the Ethiopian economy. I hope they avoid the “I need to control everything” approach taken by the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia when implementing the utility payments system. I hope TeleBirr announces their API soon so that developers can integrate it into their apps. This, in turn, will help TeleBirr grow its active users rapidly.
Overall the announcement of this platform is a great opportunity for online businesses, the economy, and even other Fintech startups. I hope TeleBirr breaks the barrier of entry for other fintech startups so that we can get a lot of innovative options.