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OPay, Opera’s payments platform launches OBus in Nigeria & it’s not done yet

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Opera‘s OPay, a payment and financial inclusion startup has launched OBus, a shuttle booking service in Nigeria to take on Swvl, Careem Bus, Little Bus among others according to people familiar with the matter.

The firm is not stopping there, as its teams are staging a massive movement to build as many use cases for the venture-backed startup with $100m two years ago and another $50m last month led by Sequoia China, IDG Capital and Source Code Capital.

According to GSMA, while mobile money has taken us a long way in a relatively short time, there is still much to be done to help close the digital divide and bring more people into the financial system; globally, 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked.

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Close the digital divide

The report adds that much work needs to be done to promote greater use of digital financial services to fully unlock the opportunities of financial inclusion. That’s what OPay is doing.

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With the first OBuses plying the CMS-Ikeja routes, OBus is OPay next step towards its vision of becoming a super app in Nigeria then spread across Africa. OPay is launching as many use cases for its payments platform as possible and the recent launch of ORide and OTrike and today’s launch of OBus is an indication that this is just a start.

If OPay can get people paying for transport via ORide, OTrike and OBus conveniently, it will be easy for them to adopt OPay for almost everything. The firm is building a huge digital payments ecosystem where everyone is included. OPay already runs OFood for food ordering and delivery, OList for ads, OKash for loans and several other verticals set to be launched. OPay is moving faster than venture-backed Gokada which has shut down for a reboot and Max which recently raised around $7m and partnered firms such as Yamaha.

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Going cashless is not easy in any cash economy anywhere in the world, India tried it and failed because it’s not just about the hard notes themselves, it’s also about use cases and user experiences. In China, beggars can receive money via WeChat Pay as the majority are using WeChat Pay.

OPay aims to help people and ecosystems go cashless by introducing various use cases for goods and services popular with the Nigerian mass. For OBus, OPay is introducing QR-powered OBus Cards, these debit cards can be purchased and topped at OPay agents and then swiped inside the OBuses. Users can also top up the OBus Cards via their OPay wallet, making the user experience as seamless as possible like Kenya’s M-Pesa which allows users to pay for goods and services and buy airtime from inside the wallet.

A hundred-plus use cases

What OPay is fishing for in its day-to-day board meetings is another use case for its payments platform. It’s not looking to pivot to anything, the firm is simply making sure it is the enabler of all micro-payments in the country. OPay is doing this by helping solve the country’s problems one by one. It won’t be a surprise to see OPay launch another platform say for solar power or an education platform as it only makes sense for OPay if it grows a financial service ecosystem around its mobile money platform. The more the services on its platform, the faster OPay will bolster its payments as a platform approach to deepen engagement with individuals and businesses.

According to a report by the GSMA, “Central to the success of digital platforms are the number and variety of partnerships they enable, which help to build a diverse and engaged user base. To transition to a payments platform, mobile operators should build on their strengths—wide distribution networks, customer reach and trusted brands—while also capitalising on innovation by incorporating external products and services into their platforms.”

OPay knows that success lies in laying the groundwork for the financial service ecosystem to grow around their service and expanding the range of products available to customers and spurring local entrepreneurialism and innovation. Though APIs are good for OPay to build a payment as a platform model, plug-and-play access to its systems is not what the firm wants because OPay wants to control. Unlike Safaricom with its Daraja API and Equity Group with its Jenga API, OPay is launching new business models or verticals over its payments platform and not allowing third-party integrators to build on it. APIs are important and don’t get us wrong but ownership is key and it’s the future. Apple has been owning its ecosystem for years, and though it delayed moving into verticals such as books, movies and music, but it’s catching up.

Back home in Africa, Safaricom would have built its mobile wallet into an everything platform as its late CEO once wished but its innovation arm was filled with corporate executives who loved titles, position, and power rather than getting their hands dirty and building things.

Safaricom had earlier banked on innovation competitions for new ideas, then morphed into a portal called Zindua Cafe and an innovation fund dubbed Spark Fund. Spark Fund has funded mostly startups like Sendy, a delivery platform; Ajua or formerly mSurvey an SMS survey platform; Eneza Education, an SMS education platform and backed ride-hailing firm Little and recently BuuPass to launch a long-distance bus booking platform for east Africa. Most of these either plugin into Safaricom’s payment service or its SMS services running on its Daraja API.

Safaricom has also tried so much to remain relevant by attracting the younger generation using its sub-brand Blaze. Blaze is using talent as a shelf to help Safaricom sell airtime and internet for years to come. The bigger picture, however, has been lost but startups like OPay give the world hope by doing what giants like MTN, Airtel, and Safaricom have failed to do.

Organizational change is harder than launching an app

Safaricom Alpha was a great thing because corporates know that plug and play APIs bring various technical challenges to them and to third-parties. Safaricom Alpha was therefore charged with managing Safaricom’s change to a platform model. However, Alpha ran too fast to launch Bonga, a supposedly future for M-PESA. The launch was premature as organizational change takes more than a startup launching an app. It’s politics, it takes various departmental heads to agree with you on the new direction. It takes teams in strategy, governance, legal, customer experience, sales, and almost everyone on board to be a success. It takes some business units giving up their mandate to give you way. Alpha was a great idea, to have an innovation team constantly innovating but it was dead on arrival and its CEO didn’t last.

New revenue models vs legacy revenue models

Losing transaction fees to build a new revenue model meant one product team would be rendered useless or deemed unproductive. Partnerships, investments and acquisitions might not have been the firm’s end-goal but launching an incubator to build things was bound to bring friction internally against the new and established legacy approach.

But internal friction is always better in the long run than focusing on external partners like Little Cab, Sendy, M-TIBA, BuuPass among others as these also need one-on-one negotiations and integration.

Maybe Safaricom should have spun off M-PESA like Equity did to Finserve. With an independent M-PESA, with its 30 million customers who make more than 10.5 million transactions every day, M-PESA would have built on itself to grow its Songa music streaming service, launch its own cab-hailing and delivery service instead of working with Sendy and Little to and run Masoko eCommerce platform under the M-PESA brand. Then there would be games, jobs, and anything else. There was no need for a new brand such as Bonga, as people would be willingly talking via the M-PESA peer-to-peer payments and messaging app.

Right now, all eyes are on OPay which launched ORide two months ago and followed it up with OTrike a few weeks after. Today, OPay launched OBus and we are not sure what it might launch next but nothing seems to be able to stop it. If OPay pulls a WeChat Pay-style plan, it’s likely that it might be Africas biggest payments platform. Whether we should wait for OChat or not is up to the team.

Opportunities for payment platforms like OPay.

OPay now has the capabilities of API plug-and-play platforms because it’s powering mobile payments for its various verticals. Though minus the intensity of a telco or mobile money provider like Safaricom, OPay has some play in the data-sharing ecosystem and is able to use its data to build more products and services to its customers who order food, rides, buses, pay for utilities, internet among others with high accuracy rates. Data is important for any companies of the future because data tells what else OPay should launch on its payments platform. OPay is steadily getting user data which is an asset for insurance services, credit scoring providers, city planning, banks, politicians, schools and even security agencies among others.

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Sam Wakoba
Sam Wakobahttp://techmoran.com
Taking you on tour through Africa's tech and business ecosystem, one story at a time since 2010! Based out of Nairobi, Kenya, Sam is the founder and managing director of Moran Media, which runs  TechMoran.com, various other digital platforms and a startup incubation hub for Kenya's youthful entrepreneurs. Drop me a mail at [email protected]

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