One of the biggest challenges facing mobile money in Africa is that few platforms link up, across borders and across banks. None of the continent’s major mobile money services have cracked the South African market yet. (Even the poor have ready access to bank accounts compared to other African countries, and it’s fairly easy to use the country’s domestic wiring system of electronic funds transfer). If WeChat can become an agnostic platform for money transfer, deposit and retrieval, it could begin to make inroads into Africa and compete with the likes of M-Pesa or Airtel Money.

It still has a long way to go. Even though WeChat has a team on the ground in Nigeria, and recently partnered with two Nigerian startups to launch on its platform, it still has just 3.4 million users in a country of 173 million, according to SocialBakers. WeChat refuses to give specific numbers around users and user growth anywhere on the continent.

Overall, WeChat Africa is following a strategy familiar in Silicon Valley: get the users first and worry about the revenue later. WeChat Wallet does charge transaction fees, but Loubser says they are in “growth phase,” and have made no revenue so far. Plans include localizing a key revenue driver in China: virtual goods. What virtual goods a cash-strapped continent would go for remains to be seen, though he pointed to a big market for ringtones and wallpapers on feature phones as a proof that the behavior does exist in Africa.

Loubser emphasizes that WeChat has only been in Africa for two years, and WeChat is playing the long game. “It’s early days. Who knows where WhatsApp was two years in. We’re only at the very start of the message-driven revolution.”

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