Computerworld Honors 2013: Mobile tech expands banking in Kenya

Commercial Bank of Africa, the 21st Century Achievement Award winner for emerging technology, develops a mobile phone platform that brings banking services to many Kenyans for the first time.

Computerworld Honors medal

The Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) wanted to reach millions of potential customers in Kenya, but most of those potential customers didn't have access to traditional brick-and-mortar banking facilities.

So the Nairobi-based bank developed M-Shwari, a mobile phone platform designed to expand its services to Kenyan customers while providing the same personalized service and excellent customer relation experience that the bank cultivates as part of its brand.

To do this, CBA partnered with local telecommunications provider Safaricom, a Vodafone Group affiliate, to deliver M-Shwari to 16 million Safaricom customers who use the mobile money platform M-Pesa. M-Shwari allows customers to open accounts and make deposits and withdrawals, as well as borrow money and pay loans.

CBA had several challenges to overcome before the product's launch. It had to integrate its core banking system with the government's population registry system to enable customer verification. The bank also had to enable integration and communication of various systems managed by different organizations and residing in different geographical locations -- for instance, the M-Pesa system resides in Germany while the core banking system and the Kenyan government population registry system reside in Kenya. In addition, CBA had to ensure that communication between the systems needed for service delivery had a turnaround time of about five seconds. Moreover, the bank had to make sure the operational and technical processes among the different organizations were aligned for optimal M-Shwari service delivery.

CBA deployed several significant technological innovations to meet these challenges. It developed the M-Shwari application within the M-Pesa platform to allow accessibility via the existing M-Pesa user interface, as well as transaction validation using an M-Pesa PIN. It customized its core banking system to support the mobile-centric banking product and to also allow interfacing with the other systems. In addition, it established data center colocation to ensure seamless and secure VPN communication between the various technologies.

The bank is continuing to work on the M-Shwari platform, with plans to improve the user interface and include additional features during the next phase of development.

CBA launched M-Shwari on Nov. 27, 2012, and within two months gained more than 1 million new customers, many of whom gained access to savings and loan products from a bank for the first time. Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Next: Critical health data sent to rural areas in Ghana via mobile

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Read more about the 2013 Computerworld Honors Laureates.

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