Safaricom enhances MPESA for visually impaired customers with new voice platform

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Joe Ogutu, Safaricom Director Strategy and innovation (right), Henry Wanyoike and Hon Isaac Mwaura (left) in attendance during the launch of M Pesa Interactive Voice Response and the celebrations of International day of Persons with disabilities at Michael Joseph Centre

Safaricom has launched a new Interactive Voice Response platform for visually impaired customers under its MPESA service.

A world first, the new service will mean that customers can now access the mobile money services by dialing 234, then selecting the “M-PESA Services” option, followed by the “M-PESA Balance” option. This will then allow customers to enter their PIN and have their balances read out to them.

“Tremendous gains lie in being able to enhance the ability to integrate of persons with disabilities into every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. Our vision at Safaricom is to Transform Lives, and we hope that this latest innovation will enable more visually impaired customers on our network to have control over their M-PESA accounts,” said Joseph Ogutu, Director – Strategy, Safaricom.

The platform will initially allow customers to query their M-PESA balances, and by accessing M-PESA through an Interactive Voice Response platform, customers can now ascertain their M-PESA balances before and after making transactions with additional M-PESA services gradually being introduced in coming months.

Previously, visually impaired customers transacting on the service have had to depend on the assistance of other persons to make transactions. This has exposed them to the risk of being defrauded in the process, and also meant that they sometimes to have reveal their M-PESA PINs to other people.

As you engage with the platform, Safaricom still has to ensure tighter steps to curb the many steps involving a bit of typing for the visually impaired.

A statement, Thibaud Rerolle, Technology Director, Safaricom agreed to, saying, “it is actually one of the first functions we are unveiling but we are starting a journey. We look at all the other capabilities as well so that you don’t have to dial but you can use voice command also to be able to navigate through it. We are looking at enhancements of initial functionalities in the future which are still under development.”

The service has been made possible through Safaricom’s investment in a voice biometric platform. The new platform will allow the firm to innovate around a number of its services by enabling customers to voice–interact with a number of services.

The company’s launch is inline with the theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities to create a more sustainable and resilient society for all.

According to the Global Disability Rights Now, Kenya has 10% of its population disabled accounting for 4.44 million people, 19.09% of the disabled are visually impaired, a population of about 0.84 million people.

Safaricom involved a focus group consisting of visually impaired customers in development and review of the service.

“When I have a basic feature phone, withdrawing or sending money has been quite an issue. I try to work with trust. We are excited by this innovation, which has been long overdue. It gives us independence and now we go ahead and transact without revealing our PIN,” said Jonah Simba, IT Program Officer, Kenya Union of the Blind.

Safaricom is also implementing a number of programs that will allow visually impaired customers to access smartphones at more affordable price points. The devices enable customers to access mobile services and applications through voice recognition software. This empowers visually impaired smartphone users to further unlock the value of mobile technology.

“We are committed into improving the customer experience which are our customer needs, our customer ability so that we are really happy to take some challenges while discussing what the consumer wants and understanding the situation to be able to push forward,” Rerolle added.

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