Bob Collymore is fondly remembered for the dexterity with which he steered Safaricom, East Africa’s most profitable company. Under his leadership, Safaricom developed mobile applications that helped low-income Kenyans access banking services for the first time.
Robert William Collymore was a Guyana-born, British Businessman who led Kenyan-based Safaricom as its Chief Executive Officer. He was raised in Guyana by his grandparents before joining his mother in the UK. There, he began his career as a businessman, working with Cellnet, Dixons Retail and Vodafone. After this, he was appointed to head Safaricom. It was in the new role that he met his wife at a fundraiser for survivors of the Loreto Convent Msongari school bus crash.
With Collymore’s visionary leadership, the telecommunications company saw a period of exponential growth as it ventured into financial services. The company introduced mobile applications and e-wallets: M-Pesa, M-Shwari, Fuliza, and M-Tiba. Notably, M-Tiba is a health-payment e-wallet enabling low-income earners to save towards their healthcare expenses. With these services, customers who had never engaged in formal banking were able to make payments, save money, get loans, and even split medical costs.
Initially, formal financial institutions criticised these innovations which they perceived as threatening. However, Kenyan banks gradually began to partner with Safaricom. For instance, after partnering with Safaricom to create M-Shwari, Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) went from a small, up-market financial service provider to having the biggest client base in Kenya.
Later, Safaricom teamed up with Vodacom to launch a mobile phone remittances application. The platform operated outside of the banking system and allows for person-to-person transactions, ATM withdrawals and bill payments. All of these achieved with just a small fee and a few taps on a mobile phone. Deservingly, Collymore’s M-Pesa won international recognition for financial inclusion. Today, its business model is replicated and e-wallets are used around the world. The President of Kenya also awarded Collymore, the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear.
In 2017, Collymore developed acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and travelled to the UK for treatment. In July 2018, he returned to Kenya to resume working for Safaricom and even accepted the appointment to chair the board of Kenya’s National Cancer Institute. After a two-year battle with cancer, the 61-year-old visionary succumbed to the diseases and passed on the 1st of July.
M-Pesa put the country in the limelight as a global leader in mobile money services. The platform not only prospered financial inclusion but enriched the logistics of moving money. The Kenyan economy owes Bob Collymore a great debt.