Mobile money providers have been hamstrung by a slew of measures unleashed by the Reserve Bank in the guise of controlling the exchange and inflation rates. Mobile money users, so all Zimbabweans, have found transacting increasingly difficult with the new rules. After the RBZ announcement that ZimSwitch will be the new national payment switch, their mobile-based operation ZIPIT announced what they call ZIPIT smart which will bring mobile money functionality to the ZIPIT platform. After delaying the use of Zimswitch as the payment switch without explanation the launch of ZIPIT smart was also delayed from Friday the 4th to Tuesday the 8th of September.
ZIPIT smart borrows a few ideas from the way mobile money works and brings them to every mobile phone through their platform. Using merchant shortcodes for payments to simplify the process. This brings the ease of transacting that Ecocash fostered and other mobile money providers adopted to an open platform for everyone. Many have looked at the move as a plan to push Ecocash out of the space and while there is merit to this belief we will discuss some of the problems around this. In the meanwhile, ZIPIT has identified and latched onto one of the core strengths of Ecocash, the merchant network.
Not new functionality, just improved
This function is not new to ZIPIT. What we have been able to do all along is send money to a bank account. What’s new here are the merchant shortcodes. Perhaps there is more in the background and Zimswitch will shed light on this. The improved functionality will certainly be welcome. It’s a good move by ZIPIT to meet people on the ground.
Fighting on the right ground
When the RBZ released the latest monetary policy which solidified the ZWL$5 000 transaction limit, the banning of mobile money agents and clipping of merchant account functionality the major concern was around two things. Firstly, bringing transacting Zimbabweans back to the banks was a tall order. Secondly, the point of mobile money was to help the unbanked and many people still are. ZIPIT smart allays the first concern as it brings the proverbial fight to the battleground where people are. Everything is mobile. This is important because getting people to alter behaviour is very difficult. The second concern we wait to see if they have something else up their sleeve.
Now for the sobering part of this saga. Zimswitch was supposed to become the national payments switch on the 15th of August. That did not happen and we know not why. Instead, the date was pushed to the 30th of September. The announced launch of ZIPIT smart was moved from September 4th to the 8th. I’m sure there are very good reasons for this but this does not inspire confidence. Getting people to switch behaviour takes more than a new product launch campaign. The hiccups suggest that perhaps the people at the top are not fully aware of how much work it takes at the bottom to make things work on the ground. Now mobile money providers and Ecocash, in particular, experienced many operational hiccups but I strongly doubt that was anybody’s first experience with them.
ZIPIT smart is a solution for the banked. What made mobile money so popular was its accessibility and utility to the unbanked. Now, of course, ZIPIT smart isn’t meant to replace mobile money but rather to offer an alternative. Time will tell how well it is received but for now, it may fail to change the landscape significantly unless mobile money is somehow put out of play.
I’m certain this is just the beginning. Many believe the RBZ has a vendetta against Ecocash and this is their way of flexing their muscles. Even if we put that belief aside and assume the RBZ has listened to peoples cries about Ecocash’s dominance being a national security threat whatever alternatives are suggested they must fill the void. Human beings are habitual creatures, you can take away Ecocash, One money and whatever else but they will require that functionality still. ZIPIT smart is a testament to understanding that.