Mobile Money in Zimbabwe: Of EcoCash, Telecash and …well, OneWallet

First, congratulations to the EcoCash team for winning the AfricaCom Best Mobile Money award. No doubt a few heads have turned towards Zimbabwe and we appreciate it. Congratulations as well to NetOne for the OneWallet re-launch. We hold our breath as we await Telecel’s Telecash launch.

There has been quite some hype surrounding Telecash’s mobile wallet. Whether it is because OneWallet came back with lesser excitement than expected (they still require you to exchange your SIM for a new one) or some market frustration with EcoCash, there is some considerable anticipation and perhaps undue expectation. Telecash will indeed be judged, unfairly if you wish, against EcoCash’s sound 3-million-subscriber-base-strong, 1-billion-dollar-transacting, Savings-account-having, AfricaCom-award-winning mobile payments platform.

Notably, there are “mischievous” similarities between the brand names Telecash and EcoCash. Clearly Telecel is not seeking to reinvent the wheel, nor should they invest as much in marketing as Econet did to conscientise the consumer. Rather, they could focus on highlighting the “corrections” for EcoCash, new stuff and their ever welcome freebies. Since EcoCash has built the rails, the other MNOs simply need to jump onto the bandwagon (a good lesson for start-ups). Subsequently this ride could actually go as far as approaching all of the same agents and merchants that EcoCash has. There is no exclusivity agency-ship after all.

NetOne, on the one extreme, have maintained their non-conformist name sticking out singularly from the pack. Their revamped OneWallet was unveiled at a very colourful launch where the only distinct addition that was instantly appreciable is the cross network transfers previously unavailable. We don’t know if Telecash’s launch delay has anything to do with not wanting to steal OneWallet’s thunder.

EcoCash unarguably has the lion’s share of the market, having capitalised on the unavailability of competition from the old OneWallet or the failed Skwama for quite a period. They are not necessarily the fanciest though, bullishly imposing their own creed on the consumer and other players. It is a cut throat business after all and also, who needs “fancy” when you have more than 3 million subscribers and a line of awards and acknowledgements behind your name. I am sure they will window dress their wallet when it becomes really necessary but for now it’s happy days.

The MMT offered by the three institutions are more or less the same, send and receive within one network and the ability to receive only from another network. You may be aware that EcoCash withdrew MMT to Telecel subscribers recently. So while Econet subscribers will be limited to sending funds to their 8,5 million subscribers, Telecel and Netone will have the liberty of sending funds to potentially 11 million subscribers. Of course we are also curious to know how the move to number portability will upset the numbers.

The one remarkable countermeasure by Telecash is how they have tried to accommodate a lot of players within the industry. Rather than purchase the bank, dictate the terms and do all else that needs to be done by themselves, they chose instead, an inclusion based philosophy. Contrasting EcoCash directly, they have roped in Zimswitch and the banks in an interoperability arrangement. At inception, by inference they will have potentially over 4,500 ready redemption points in the form of Point of Sale terminals around Zimbabwe.

YES, they will be issuing debit cards to subscribers to complement their wallet. One would want to argue that issuing debit cards dissuades customers from ultimately adopting mobile wallets. However, and quite clearly; other than for money transfer, Zimbabwean consumers have not yet bought into mobile money enough to comfortably transact on as many retail products and other services.

As an elaboration, the inconvenience of trying to buy groceries via the mobile phone using USSD while in a regular supermarket queue will almost certainly attract the ire of impatient patrons. Near Field Technology (NFT) would kill this bug but let’s be honest, right now and the near future, that technology is still a wish, particularly where there are no incentives for retailers to invest in it. Hence the traditional debit card. We are not aware at this point of the number and spread of Telecash agents and whether or not banking halls will be available as agencies as well, boosting the numbers even more.

Reports indicate focus on increasing data usage coming from a view where there is stagnation of revenues in voice services. The introduction of value added services naturally becomes critical as a wildcard, as market competition shifts to data services delivery. EcoCash has since launched a savings account, EcoFarmer and Payroll services. Telecash indicated they may choose to distribute their deposits across several banks in their interoperability arrangement with banks. This will however give them a headache if they are to make good of offering a savings account of their own. They will have to consider where the trust fund will reside without giving unfair advantage and leverage to one bank against another.

For all networks, there is mileage to be gained from opening up offering of value added services to developers, businesses, entrepreneurs and marketers. I personally believe this is a major determinant in the future of Mobile Money. For Telecash, an all-inclusive environment allows an address of some of the frustrations other stakeholders have experienced with EcoCash and could give them somewhat of an edge.

originally published on TechZim

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