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Equity Bank sets August as thin SIM technology rollout date

By Paul Wafula | June 1st 2015

Equity Bank expects to officially roll out its controversial thin SIM technology by August this year. The move is expected to disrupt the telecoms market and reduce cost of money transfer.

The Bank, however, said that though it is still being delayed by two other court cases, is hopeful that last week’s ruling by High Court Judge Isaac Lenaola would be replicated in the remaining cases.

“We still have two cases to deal with and we expect a ruling in a month or so” a highly placed source at Equity Bank told The Standard yesterday. “If everything goes as planned and the ruling remains in our favour, we shall roll out between July and August.”

Consumer interest

He said one of the cases still pending in court is the one filed by the Consumers Federation of Kenya (CoFeK). However, CoFeK said yesterday it was not opposed to the technology because it is in the best interest of consumers but the process taken.

“Our case is not on the technology. We were just concerned about the process. Our main issue was the regulator but people misinterpreted this to mean that we were opposed to the technology. We are expecting the ruling end of July,” CoFeK Secretary General Stephen Mutoro said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The other case was filed by Legal Advice Centre. The centre alleged that the Communications Authority approved Equity Bank’s thin SIM technology before full audit was done on its security risks. Equity Bank Chief Executive James Mwangi argued that the bank saw an opportunity and took it up since consumers “were being denied a choice in the market.” Airtel is also betting on Equity’s brand to penetrate the market that remains solidly in the hands of Safaricom.

The new Sim card is paper-thin that can use services from two providers, thus increasing competition.

Judge Lenaola last week threw out one of the cases against the bank. The case was filed by businessman Bernard Murage. Mr Murage had argued that Equity Bank had not given proper assurance to its clients concerning the safety of their personal data.

Statutory agency

Justice Lenaola ruled that since the Communication Authority and Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) had approved the roll-out, the court has no reason to interfere “with the merit of a decision clearly falling within the relevant statutory agency without allegations of any irregularities on its part.”

The Communication Authority of Kenya which allowed Equity Bank, through its subsidiary, Finserve Africa to implement the new technology on one-year trial basis has since been disbanded by the High Court.

Immediately after the award, several individuals and groups rushed to court to stop the roll out. In his ruling, Lenaola said that he was convinced that the innovation will enhance competition in the provision of services and will be beneficial to those who subscribe to it.

The judge also declined to rule on request made by the petitioner to consider the concerns of Safaricom regarding the technology. It is expected that the ruling could form a precedent in the other cases pending in court. Last year, Safaricom raised objection to the introduction of the service saying the technology will compromise security of M-Pesa system exposing its 19 million money transfer service subscribers to fraud.

But during its announcement of last year’s result, Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore said that the company was not opposed to the thin SIM technology.

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