Competition is heating up in Zimbabwe’s mobile money space as telecom firms look to outwit each other in order to cash in.
All three mobile operators in Zimbabwe have mobile money services, as Telecel Zimbabwe -- which has 2.5 million subscribers -- joined the fray on Wednesday by launching its Telecash offering.
Zimbabwe’s largest mobile operator Econet -- which has 8.5 million subscribers -- already has EcoCash that has notched up 3 million users. Meanwhile, state run NetOne -- with just under 2.5 million subscribers -- operates its One Wallet service, of which user numbers are not readily available.
Economic analysts in Zimbabwe said on Wednesday that the launch by Telecel of Telecash will bring greater competition in the sector, which has until now been dominated by Econet.
In addition to the telecom operators, mobile money transfer services are also offered by retailer OK Zimbabwe and Zimpost..
“It’s a sector that is growing and broadening. It brings about options for users of such services and will likely force down service fees,” said Zimbabwe economist Johannes Kwangwari.
While EcoCash has grown and expanded to encompass airtime transfers; bill payments and money transfers, Telecash comes onto the market in a unique way.
That is, Telecash is the first mobile money system to integrate on the Zimswitch platform used by local banks to interlink their systems.
Econet has stayed away from this system, and has subsequently run into problems with banks who accuse the biggest telco in Zimbabwe of refusing to open up its network for full integration with Zimswitch.
Telecash then comes about already integrated with the banks and will enable users to pay for groceries, utility bills, airtime and other goods and services, the company said on Wednesday.
Both EcoCash and Telecash are running on the USSD system, which dishes up services using text message technology.
But Telecash also plans to allow for international transactions while Ecocash said last year it was working on finalising this aspect of its service.
Until Telecash, only expat Zimbabweans in South Africa have been able to use international mobile money services via the likes of EcoCash.
In addition, traditional banking services are also being offered by mobile money services in Zimbabwe.
“There is a bulk payments facility that allows corporates to make bulk payments, including salaries, through Telecash. The same facility also allows banks to make loan disbursements directly into a borrower’s account. The borrower can make loan repayments through Telecash as well,” Telecel officials said on Wednesday.
“Telecash offers convenience for everyone but in particular offers banking services to people with no previous access to banking and financial services, especially those in the country’s remote areas,” Telecel Mobile financial services director Nkosinathi Ncube said.
Dark clouds do hang over Telecel Zimbabwe; though, amid allegations that the company is failing to comply with the country’s indigenisation laws -- which call international firms to give up 50% of their ownership to locals.
Egypt’s Orascom Telecom has a majority stake in Telecel Zimbabwe.
Telecel also desperately managed to renew its operating licence after promising the Zimbabwean government to change its ownership structures.
But unless the company deals with this soon; its voice, text, internet and now mobile money services in Zimbabwe could be under serious jeopardy.