Mobile money interoperability raises more questions

HARARE - ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira’s recent ultimatum to the country’s mobile network operators to find a way to make all their mobile money platforms work together raises more questions than answers.

Interoperability is still in its nascent stages in Africa and it is believed that when implemented it is a catalyst for growth in the mobile money sector and in our case here in Zimbabwe it has been long overdue.

The benefits of adopting this service across the different operators is undoubtedly a positive one as it goes a long way in the creation of a sustainable mobile money ecosystem but as well as for customers who are able to conduct their transactions irrespective of the network they are registered under.

Its implementation is highly dependent on the need to getting agreement to the integration and interaction process.

Indeed many countries who operate mobile money businesses in sub-Sahara Africa such as Kenya and Tanzania are exploring this functionality exhaustibly.

Kenya has been working on it for a year and is still conducting tests. Tanzania is still in early stages of implementation.

For Zimbabwe, which is yet to conduct pilot tests on interoperability, questions are being asked on why are the country’s three mobile network operators — Telecel, Econet and NetOne — are being forced to comply with this regulation with possibilities for penalties for noncompliance?

Why has it taken this long for the government to push operators to embrace and adopt interoperability when Zimbabwe started using mobile money more than seven years ago?

And when we are talking about mobile money, who should be regulating monetary issues in Zimbabwe?

Should the directive come from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) or the Reserve bank of Zimbabwe? Who is in charge of this area?

When we made some enquiries to the reasons why the implementation of interoperability had taken so long to be achieved when the benefits to customers are so glaringly obvious, our sources within Potraz indicated  that when EcoCash had previously applied to do this a year ago, their application was disqualified as this was perceived to be anti-competitive.

Knowing how Econet/EcoCash operate and their aggressiveness, it is likely they are ahead of all players with a plan.

We were therefore left baffled when we read the minister’s mandatory request to ensuring compliance to this regulation.

Indeed when we tested to check this, we were left speechless by the fact that the EcoCash platform is compliant — is actually interoperable.

We were surprised to see that all the transactions we tried worked flawlessly.

All you do is register your NetOne or Telecel line via an EcoCash agent, submitting your ID copy. After being registered, you download the EcoCash App and you are good to go.

It then begs the question whether OneMoney or TeleCash, which the minister seems to want to help are behind or is it the minister who is behind this latest move?

We do not understand what triggered this request. Is it perhaps that the ICT minister has been left behind by the developments which are happening in this sector or maybe there is a broader agenda at play?

We leave it to the minister to clarify. In fact, is interoperability the discussion or it should be social payments, given the tests in India with WhatsApp? - The Financial Gazette

Comments (1)

The praise you heap on Econet is not based on reality. Zimbabwe has not had cash availability and mobile, online and cash based payments have been an agreed approach. A few players however have cashed in (pardon the pun) on this opportunity to milk customers Ecocash has been the biggest culprit. The charges for moving money on the Ecocash platform are expensive and the mobile operator is aware if they use a national switch which is interoperable like ZimSwitch they will be forced to use bank related charges and lose money. Econet has instead come up with a primarily USSD based platform for paying which is slow and inconvinenient. Their *151* painful to use and certainly not interoperable. the other players, Telecel and Netone, have tried to play ball by joining ZimSwitch which has over 14 local banks to make their service affordable and available. Econet is not interoperable as this writer claims! The idea that POTRAZ can speak on mobile financial services is ridiculous because mobile phone converge technology POTRAZ regulates mobile operators even when their services include video on demand, mobile financial services or content. The argument here is POTRAZ which already accomodates and co-regulates with RBZ should not have a voice on a critical issue. Mobile phones through convergence of technology can bring limitless services already being regulated by RBZ or even BAZ but that doesn't mean POTRAZ should only comment on voice and text services. Econet, as always, is resisting opening up and when you don't self -regulate the government steps in. Interoperability, at least not in Zimbabwe, wont take time to fix with ZimSwitch. Already Econet is linked to Steward and Zimswitch but doesnt have a Zimswitch card like the other players.

Taurai Magwadzo - 2 March 2018

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