As mobile penetration
reached 106% , and effectively 60% of people in
Zimbabwe now have access to mobile services, mobile operators have gone a step further. They now offer people safe and convenient ways to transfer money, pay for electricity and basic services and last but not least, add much needed top-up to their own
mobile phones, or those of friends and family. Having helped people communicate, they’re now helping them transact and receive money from abroad, helping the country recover from the hyper inflation of 2008 and the loss of their currency.
When the Zimbabwe dollar failed to recover in spite of multiple rebirths: ZWD in 1980, ZWN in 2006, ZWR in 2008, and it’s fourth incarnation of ZWL in 2009, foreign currency finally got legalised in January 2009 and the Zimbabwean dollar was abandoned by
April 2009. It is difficult to imagine how a country of 14 million people quietly went about with “business as usual”, as less than 2 million had access to any kind of formal banking services.
In a country where every individual is an entrepreneur there was a gap for how they pay and get paid locally, regionally and internationally. Now new services are starting to fill the needs, but success for all the entrants can by no means be taken for granted.
Mobile money brings new hope
Now though, a transformation is under way as over 5 million people have found new ways to carry out daily transactions through a 10,000+ agent and merchant network of small stores that function as points for people to open accounts, deposit and withdraw
cash and pay bills.
The largest operator in the country,
Econet Wireless, now has 3.5 million of their subscriber base using their
EcoCash Mobile Money service, since it launched in September 2011. At the time, the other two operators had already launched similar services that failed to capture the market, so it was not clear whether they would succeed. Today though, they already handle
over $4.5 billion worth of transactions, and a vibrant ecosystem of merchants and services has built up in a remarkably short time.
The second largest operator,
Telecel (Orascom) had entered the market in December 2011 without much success, but just as Telecel closed down their service
Skwama, Econet made a break through with their Ecocash service. So while it may have seemed like Telecel had an option, the reality is that mobile money is now a part of the core package subscribers expect in Zimbabwe. Early this year Telecel launched
Telecash, and four months ago they launched a mobile money Android app for Telecash. This time with a promise of free transfers, free cash in and cash out have had the desired effect,
with 600,000 users taking up the service and reported transaction levels of $17 million.
The future of mobile money in Zimbabwe – will it mature into digital money in 2015?
What happens next depends on whether the Zimbabwe ecosystem is able to make that difficult transition to non-cash payments, merchant payments and retail payments. As the agent network grows, the small stores must fully embrace the services and find their
businesses succeeding due to this. The country must go a long way to strengthen the building blocks and weaken the real enemy, cash and this means that all will need to pull in the same direction.
But underlying all this progress is one building block that must not be forgotten.
Zimswitch provides the rails that allow for instant funds transfer and also supports mobile and online payment services. These underlying enablers need to be strengthened and connected
into the vast developing digital economy – regional and global.
Though this is hard at first, Shift Thought research in markets around the world shows that if everyone in the ecosystem starts to believe from their hearts that the success of one money service does not mean the failure of another, more people start to
embrace the services and the whole market grows. I believe we have much to look forward to with the march of digital money in Zimbabwe, not just for Zimbabweans or even Africans, but for the future of payments around the world.