Interoperability is finally here! There is a directive that has been issued by the central bank. EcoCash, One Money, TeleCash have been directed to make it possible for people to send mobile money across different networks. There was a legislative framework that the central bank recently published. I am going to look at that directive and I will also discuss some noteworthy talking points.

The Reserve Bank Of Zimbabwe Directive

I am going to quote some parts from the legislation that the central bank released. I will only quote those that are specific to the issue of interoperability between mobile money service providers.

It shall be mandatory for every money transmission provider and mobile banking provider shall be connected to a national payment switch, as shall be directed by written notice by the Reserve Bank from time to time that enables interoperability of payments systems and services.” – This is subsection (1) of the legislation.

For the purposes of connecting to the national payment switch in terms of subsection (1) every money transmission provider and mobile banking provider shall install, deploy, or commission such infrastructure and connection protocols, credentials and documentation necessary to enable integration with any recognised payment system in terms of the National Payment Systems Act [Chapter 24:23]

Some Noteworthy Talking Points

I am going to discuss some pertinent things worth talking about. This is obviously an interesting development and we have to bring our attention to some dynamics here.

It Has Been Long Awaited

The issue of interoperability has always been topical for quite a long time. People have always wished that it should be possible to send from, for instance, EcoCash to One Money or vice versa. There are countless scenarios where such wishes would be brought to the fore. A semblance of interoperability came when it became possible to purchase airtime for any mobile network operator using EcoCash. This, of course, would not be something that we can term direct interoperability but at least it has been something. The biggest anticipation was the aspect of actually sending mobile money across any of the networks. It is no doubt something that people are excited to be hearing about at the moment. This is all because for the transacting public it does bring about convenience.

Implications For EcoCash

It is vital that we explore the implications for EcoCash. In case you did not know, EcoCash has always been heavily opposed to the idea of interoperability. One of their major premises for that standpoint is that they invested lots of money into building EcoCash. Thus they feel that interoperability would be unfair in that other mobile money service providers will not invest as much as they did. It is more like they feel that the others will just be reaping the fruits of their labour.

Anyways, it all boils down to having an upper hand in the market. EcoCash is the dominant player locally in the mobile money spectrum with a market share exceeding 95%. Interoperability might have undesirable effects on their market share. They somehow know that once interoperability is there people might shift more of their focus to One Money. The reasons for their concerns are clearly borne from how NetOne and One Money are offering better packages than Econet and EcoCash are. Conversely, this could result in more business for Ecocash agents so ut’s not all bad for Ecocash.

Some Issues Of Concern

The issue of interoperability sounds very good on paper but seldom is practical implementation a walk in the park. We are talking about 3 different platforms which are obviously built differently. We are also looking at 3 service providers with different types of infrastructure. Network capabilities and strengths obviously vary. Individually each platform has a fair share of its own hurdles. With all that in mind, you then have to integrate all 3 platforms to facilitate interoperability.

As a software developer, I know how messy that can be if not handled properly. Just think of how query handling is going to be dealt with, for example. Say, you send money from One Money to EcoCash and it does not go through, will there not be some subtle sabotaging behaviour between the two service providers. Remember I earlier on talked about how Econet has never been a fan of interoperability. These are some of the immediate concerns that come to mind – but there can be more.

This development is proving most welcome amongst the transacting public. However, there are two sides of the coin and I am sure a lot of issues might emerge once this new framework gets rolled out. I can only believe that the consumers will get the best out of this new arrangement.