I find Epimack Mbeteni swinging on his chair as he assesses the numbers displayed on the screen in his office. The room is decorated with M-Pesa images, pictures and posters making it seem somewhat like an M-Pesa shrine but the man brings it to life as he ushers me in.
I make nothing of the numbers on the screen and he laughs assuring me all is well with M-Pesa system.
With Epimack’s enthusiasm and the strange décor in his office I have a feeling our conversation about mobile money will be anything but dull.
Vodacom Tanzania PLC just announced its financial results for the year ended 31 March 2019.
The company achieved a 5.4 per cent growth in service revenue driven by strong growth in M-Pesa, mobile data and messaging revenue maintaining its lead in the mobile and financial service sector in Tanzania.
M-Pesa accounted for 34.5 per cent of the total revenue making it one of the biggest revenue generators for the company and this man Epimack is at the center of it all.
Epimack Mbeteni is the newly appointed Director of M-Commerce at Vodacom Tanzania but more so he is the first Tanzanian to ever head a commercial business unit at the large Telco and his demure says he is a man on a mission.
“I vividly remember what my boss said to me upon appointment to this position; he said the investors were placing so much responsibility on me as the first Tanzanian to head a commercial unit thus my success and performance were being watched carefully - So I carry the dreams of a nation, I have to prove that we Tanzanians can perform in large corporates and I am determined to deliver performance of the highest standard possible,” he says.
The responsibility to manage and grow M-Pesa is no small task –considering the mobile money platform has been hailed as the key to creating a digital economy and drive financial inclusion in Tanzania. But for Epimack, a man whose determination and aggressiveness made his dream a reality – this is an exciting challenge. “When I first joined Vodacom in 2004 as a graduate trainee in the IT department as a system administrator, I knew it was not where I wanted to be. I learnt that it is the commercial department that makes things happen through sales and marketing so I was determined to not only get into the commercial unit but to actually head it and here I am today, ” he says.
Making the transition
Seeking a way to transition from IT into commercial business, Epimack moved to a different Telco where he acquired new skills in mobile money systems. “It was a new role but I was determined to not only learn but also shine, I was named top performer and was called to a different Telco to help set up their mobile money system which had stalled for 2 years and I delivered results in 6 months,” he adds.
It was the interaction with mobile money systems at two top Telco’s that shaped Epimack’s understanding and knowledge of the mobile money technology and the impact it has on communities.
“My eyes were opened to the reality of what mobile money can do and I was instantly drawn to it. I delivered top notch performance at all my roles and when I saw a job opening at Vodacom M-Pesa department 4 years later, I was ready and up for the task. After my return, I was tasked with a career defining mission - M-Pesa G2 migration. This was one of the biggest mobile money system migration in Africa as we were bringing M-Pesa home - it was previously hosted in the UK and was not able to accommodate other services beyond sending and receiving money,” he says, adding; “I successfully managed to deliver results 1 month ahead of time which put me on the spot for career progression.”
Having an employer that not only recognized his hard work but was ready to invest in him in terms of mentoring and training is what helped Epimack grow to where he is, which is why he is particularly passionate about mentoring and investing in his team.
“I did not get here without assistance, I was lucky to have very good line managers who not only mentored and coached me with valuable skills but they also challenged me with tasks that saw me grow.
The company also saw my potential and took me through a series of training to develop my skills and ultimately sent me to Vodacom advanced Executive Program at the top business school in Africa, where I learnt how top businesses operate. So I encourage my team, I challenge them and mentor them because it is my wish to see my team grow and achieve their dream.
On youth mentorship
Mentoring others who are trying to find their footing in their respective career aspirations is one of the things Epimack enjoys doing.
“I ensure to do things that I enjoy like travelling, reading books, listening to gospel music but also mentor the youth through engagement and speaking at seminars and workshops,” he says.
M-Pesa, for Epimack, is not just a product, he sees it as an opportunity to change people’s lives. It is this passion and affection that allows him to quickly adapt business models and strategies, while constantly innovating new products to meet real customer needs to enhance the consumer experience.
With the digital finance space being cluttered with many players including commercial banks, Epimack is geared to keep M-Pesa ahead of competition.
“Competition is a good thing in any market and I welcome more players in the digital finance space because this means two things; we are reaching more Tanzanians thus contributing to financial inclusion but businesswise, it keeps us on our toes to be more innovative. If you ask me our biggest competitor is hard cash and not other mobile money operators,” he says.
He adds: Hard cash is expensive for the government in terms of printing it, transporting it and to you as a consumer in terms of security. Moving Tanzania towards a cashless economy is my top agenda. Tanzania needs to move to an economic state where bank notes or coins used in financial transactions gradually decline to pave the way for digital and mobile payments to lead Tanzania into the digital age.
Epimack’s focus on the financially excluded is what draws him to collaborate with innovators, businesses, financial institutions and even government whose work aims to improve the impact and effectiveness of programs and policies for the poor.
Realizing that they [Vodacom] don’t have all the answers and ideas to grow M-Pesa beyond a product is the motive behind collaboration with other players in areas of business, opportunity, and financial inclusion.
“I believe businesses thrive when they have an impact to the society,” he says.
On what the future holds in the mobile money division, the commercial expert says; “I think a cashless society is the future. I see a future where people will not need their wallets or handbags anymore. But with a vast network and a huge mobile money ecosystem I believe all Tanzanians who don’t have access to formal financial services will be reached,” he answers.
As I wind up, I ask Epimack what success looks like to him “Success to me is achieving a dream and pausing to celebrate it. Celebrating simple milestones in life gives one the zeal to pursue more. If you dreamed of reaching the university, passing form 4 is a success that ought to be celebrated because it’s a step closer to your dream.”
The 40-year-old father of a 7-year-old daughter credits his family as what pushes him to work harder.
"My wife Jacqueline Siara Msoka and daughter Angel have played a big part of my success, the fact that my daughter says she wants to be just like me when she grows up really motivates me to push myself and succeed but also give her the best,” he says.
Despite his busy schedule and demanding career, there is one thing he always makes time for – family.
Epimack spends his weekends with his family but also helps his daughter with homework on a daily basis if he has not travelled.
On his biggest challenge to-date Epimack laughs saying there have been many but challenges to him have been opportunities to learn and grow.