When they hit the scene, social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp were mainly used by friends and families to catch up, interact, share information and trade jokes. They also play a prominent role in planning social events such as fundraisings, get-togethers, weddings, funerals, among others.

Gradually, these platforms have morphed into channels for serious business and investments.

 Firms, big and small, started adopting them as work offices and marketplaces for goods and services. They have also grown to be the favourite tool for savings and investment groups popularly known as chamas.

WhatsApp is increasingly becoming a mainstream tool for business planning and strategies, with   entrepreneurial Kenyans turning it into business premises where they display and sell their wares of trade.

What is the key driver making WhatsApp so attractive? The answer is millennial. The big firms incorporating WhatsApp in their business operations seek to catch the attention of the millennial who are the major users of social media channels.

Research shows that Kenya has the highest percentage of monthly WhatsApp users globally, with 97 percent of internet users on WhatsApp every month. South Africa comes second at 96 percent, Nigeria- 95 percent, followed by Argentina at 93 percent. Most of these are tech-savvy youth.

To tap these numbers, corporates are entering into the WhatsApp arena in troves.  Pension firm, Zamara Group expanded its digital pension plan Fahari Retirement to allow users to access it on WhatsApp.

“We are using a channel that more than 12 million Kenyans use. This is the app we use to communicate with our friends, family and connect with brands and businesses. Now you can use WhatsApp to enroll, join a pension plan, save and take out insurance,” Zamara Group chief executive Sundeep Raichura said.

The firm said the social media platform will play an important part in its customer base for its retirement products, especially in the informal sector.

“People don’t take pensions and insurance because they fear there will be penalties. This is the first such plan in Kenya. There is no compulsion, it has insurance embedded and penalty-free access because currently, every other product has a penalty on access,” Mr Raichura added.

Fahari Retirement Plan allows individuals to save as low as Sh20 daily or Sh300 monthly. They can access the funds after 50 years in a lump sum or in bits as regular income. Savers can also withdraw their cash anytime without penalty.

The product has incorporated an insurance funeral cover valued at Sh25,000.

Absa Bank launched Abby, a WhatsApp female robot that can engage customers, explaining to them the lender’s products on 24/7 basis.

The intelligent virtual assistant can facilitate transactions and other personalised services such as facilitating airtime purchases, making recommendations for lowering expenditure, sending customers notifications, informing them about their balances and providing updates on things like credit reports.

The use of the WhatsApp is slowly catching on in banking with few lenders adopting the platform owned by Facebook including UBA Bank’s Leo and Housing Finance which partnered with Infobip, the global cloud communication company for businesses, and Wayawaya, Kocela, and Myriad to offer the service.

Insurance companies were among the first adopters with Jubilee Insurance launching dedicated lines for WhatsApp use in 2014 to communicate with their customers.

The insurance company has dedicated a team to answer all queries received via WhatsApp, similar to what they do with their other online platforms.

The use of WhatsApp also allows users who constantly travel outside the country to keep in touch with the insurer without having to worry about tariff charges for long-distance calls.

WhatsApp Business has major advantages for corporate clients allowing automation, machine learning, and use of a chatbot in place of customer care assistants.

Companies can use interactive templates that use buttons with pre-defined answers and include a chatbot to handle recurring jobs before handing them over to a customer support consultant.

Absa said its Chabot is fitted with Artificial Intelligence-AI and can interact with customers, send notifications and give updates of product offers and credit reports.

“Essentially, we are transforming banking from being a series of complex transactions into a simple conversation on WhatsApp. We have shaped a rich history as a bank of many firsts and today we are excited to continue on this streak of innovation,” said Absa Bank Kenya Managing Director Jeremy Awori.      

While customers are wary about the security of digital platforms, Absa says their WhatsApp channel sits on a sophisticated technology with many layers of authentication, making it as safe and secure as any other banking channel.