Vodacom partners with China’s Alipay to create ‘super app’

Vodacom branding on the Ponte Building in Hilbrow, Johannesburg, in 2011.


Vodacom has partnered with China’s Alipay on a new “super app” that will allow customers to make payments, stream video and make travel arrangements, among a host of other services.

SA’s largest mobile operator is creating a platform that will aggregate different merchants and service providers so that users can do all their business online and “never have to leave the app”.

Tencent’s WeChat is an example of a super app as it allows users to order food, hail rides, play games and make payments on a growing list of services.

Alipay, an affiliate of Chinese businessperson Jack Ma’s Alibaba, has more than 1.2-billion users around the world.

During at virtual announcement of the platform on Monday, Vodacom’s CEO for financial services, Mariam Cassim, said “The next six months are going to be very busy,” explaining that they are in the process on signing up and registering merchants and businesses for the new platform.

Vodacom has recently launched an Android-based point of sale device for merchants as part of the development.

She said the platform will be “network agnostic” as it will be available to all South Africans, even those not on Vodacom.

Group CEO Shameel Joosub said the service would only be available in SA at its launch. In other operating countries, some of the new services will be offered through Mpesa, run by Vodacom affiliate, Safaricom.

In terms of revenue streams, Joosub said Vodacom would take fees from processing payments as all transactions would be done through their system. He also said there was opportunity to do lending on the platform. With Uber as a merchant on the platform, Vodacom could, for example, offer rides on credit, he said.

However, he could not give detail on what cut of revenue generated through the platform would be taken by Vodacom, saying they were still working that out.

Vodacom will pay Alipay parent company Ant Group fees for the use of the technology.

Vodacom and competitor MTN have been investing heavily in mobile payments and financial services for the past decade.

MTN first launched its mobile money platform locally in 2012 before pulling the plug in 2016 because of a lack of commercial viability as three-quarters of the population had bank accounts. Vodacom shut down its M-Pesa mobile money service in SA in the same year, citing similar reasons.

Since then Vodacom decided to go in a different direction, concentrating its efforts on insurance and lending.

In June, MTN said its mobile money platform — MoMo — had registered more than one-million users since its relaunch in February.

Fixed-line operator Telkom recently began the process to rebrand and repurpose the almost 70-year-old Yellow Pages into an online marketplace, as part of an effort to capitalise on the growth of e-commerce and grow new revenue streams.


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