Equity Bank’s Equitel Targets 100 Million African Customers

Equity Bank Ltd., which has started a new mobile payment and banking service called Equitel, is seeking 100 million customers in Africa within 10 years and the first five million by the end of 2015.

“We already have 800,000 accounts and I’m optimistic we’ll have five million SIM cards issued by year end,” James Mwangi, chief executive officer of parent Equity Group Holdings Ltd., said Wednesday in an interview at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town. “For Africa, this is a bold step to converge financial services and telecoms along with payment services through American Express and MasterCard for tap and go.”

Equitel is a joint project between Nairobi-based Equity Bank and Airtel Kenya Ltd. The telecommunications company, which is controlled by India’s Bharti Airtel Ltd., teamed up with Equity Bank last year to begin operating the mobile-phone banking and payment service. It competes with Safaricom Ltd.’s M-Pesa which allows users to send money by mobile-phone, generating 26.6 billion shillings ($275 million) of revenue for Safaricom in 2014.

“We have spent $20 million” on Equitel, Mwangi said. “The number of Equitel customers can be equal to the number of banking customers and we have 10 million customers. In the next 10 years we want 100 million. We will follow Airtel’s footprint and we will be in 15 countries in 10 years and eventually also go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

As capital needs grow along with Equity Bank’s expansion, it may consider an initial public offering in Johannesburg or London, Mwangi said.

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