Google announced on Feb. 16 that it will be terminating its Kenyan cashless payment program BebaPay on March 15, in a move that is being described as a quiet retreat from the payments space.
“We are consolidating projects to focus on less within the payments space,” said Dorothy Ooko, Google’s communications and public affairs manager for East and Francophone Africa to Business Daily Africa.
The card was launched in 2013 as part of a partnership with Equity Bank as a contactless NFC payments system for buses after the Kenyan government banned cash payments for public transportation, a near $2.4 billion business that can be a lucrative revenue source for banks via commissions. BebaPay then expanded from bus payments to intrabank transfers for Equity Bank customers, ATM withdrawals and POS system payments. Currently, over 100,000 people use BebaPay, but one estimate from Daily Nation says that over 700,000 people have signed up for it.
The move away from NFC payments was hinted at when Google discontinued the card at De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines, last November.
Google informed BebaPay customers by text message, as well as online, about the pending termination of the service, as well as a timeline of how the service will be phased out. Customers are encouraged to either switch to Equity’s pre-paid MasterCard, burn through whatever money is left on the card after the last allowable mobile top-up on Feb. 20, or receive a refund of monies not spent on March 28.
In addition to the end of BebaPay, Google also announced that it was discontinuing Google Wallet for digital goods purchases, and appears to be shifting its mobile payments focus to non-NFC models like Plaso. Its exit from the African payments space also could be a boost to local rivals specializing in cash-lite solutions, some of whom offer PSV (public service vehicle) specific options, according to Business Daily Africa.