Vodacom Group Ltd. has developed Africa’s first super-app with help from China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., allowing subscribers a broad range of services including taking out loans, shopping online and making standard mobile payments.
The app, called VodaPay, will be available to South African customers in coming weeks, and will help Vodacom expand financial and e-commerce services in its home market in the absence of new high-speed broadband spectrum. The app is comparable to Tencent Holding Ltd.’s WeChat, used by more than a billion people, Chief Executive Officer Shameel Joosub said in an interview.
“The world is moving toward e-commerce, and while leveraging off what we already have we also need to grow that side,” he said.
Mobile operators in Africa have invested heavily in financial technology to fill a gap left by a lack of physical banking infrastructure. Vodacom’s Johannesburg rival, MTN Group Ltd., is looking to carve out and possibly list its financial-services business, while Airtel Africa Plc is looking at similar options.
Vodacom, majority owned by the U.K.’s Vodafone Group Plc, is looking to expand its financial-technology offering in South Africa while waiting for the government’s long-promised auction of spectrum, which it says is needed to expand broadband service and bring down data prices. The super-app partnership also represents an expansion opportunity for Alipay, which has been battling an antitrust probe in China.
Vodacom’s push into e-commerce will be replicated by Kenyan partner Safaricom Plc, whose M-Pesa mobile-money service accounts for about a third of revenue, Joosub said. M-Pesa will start offering more online retail and financial products in Vodacom’s international markets such as Tanzania, the CEO said, alongside its core payments business.
Vodacom upgraded its profitability targets on improved prospects for Safaricom and other businesses outside South Africa, while announcing improved full-year earnings and sales. Operating profit is now expected to increase by mid-to-high single digits over the next three years, the company said in a statement, up from a mid-single digit target set in November.
The company is awaiting a response from the Ethiopian government on an approach to buy one of two new operating licenses in the country, alongside partners Safaricom and Vodafone.
“Key to our business case is our mobile money and financial-services proposition, so if we are successful with the license in Ethiopia, we will be encouraging government to license those services too,” said Joosub.