Last night, Steward Bank, the financial services subsidiary of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, officially opened its flagship branch at Eastgate Mall in Harare.
Speakers at the event included the new Steward Bank CEO Lance Mabondiani and Japhet Aritho, the head of EcoCash. They both highlighted the focus of tapping into Econet’s tech and financial services strengths to enhance the customer experience for Steward and EcoCash customers.
The focus of the event though was the unveiling of the Smart ATMs. The ATMs, which were developed in partnership with EcoCash, effectively integrate ECoCash services into ordinary ATM functions.
What can the Smart ATM do?
From the Smart ATM, any EcoCash subscriber (it’s not for Steward bank clients only) can perform the cardless transaction of cashing out money from the wallet through the ATM itself. Steward Bank cardholders can also buy Econet airtime from the Smart ATM.
Its Zimswitch and Mastercard enabled so another EcoCash product, the EcoCash MasterCard is compliant with the ATMs
It’s the same sort of mobile wallet-meets-ATM service that regional mobile operator MTN has introduced for its MTN Mobile Money in countries like Uganda.
How smart is Smart anyway?
This is a smart way to leverage on the relationship Steward Bank has with Econet and EcoCash. It was definitely worth executing as a value added service for Steward bank clients and EcoCash subscribers.
However, as far as smart ATM tech is concerned there is still a lot that could be done. The Steward Bank Smart ATM has managed to assume a pseudo mobile money agent role in all aspects except accepting deposits. That is the one aspect that one would expect from anything smart from an ATM.
According to Japhet Aritho and other Steward Bank executives, this is something that will be introduced in the short to medium term. This ATM service, together with the in-store online banking service is supposed to be the first of many steps towards a smarter experience.
The fact of the matter is ATM hardware and software rollout and maintenance is hardly cheap, and in an economy like ours where there aren’t a lot of people streaming to open bank accounts, let alone use ATMs, the business case for a huge investment into ATMs is hard to justify. This probably explains why the ATMs didn’t look as modern as one would expect from the smart tag.
In any case, Steward Bank has managed to score points for added integration with mobile money. After introducing Agent banking last year, this adds to the integration of the bank with EcoCash which makes more than just ordinary business sense in Zimbabwean financial services.