Zimbabwe’s largest mobile phone company, Econet Wireless, has unveiled an innovative functionality on its mobile money service EcoCash which allows a cell phone to also operate as a virtual debit card.
The functionality is a first in the world and in Africa where mobile banking services are expanding as more people use the service to avoid high bank charges. In addition, mobile banking is becoming an attractive option owing to the lack of physical banking infrastructure in one of the world’s fastest growing mobile phone markets with an estimated subscriber base of more than 760-million.
Econet says instead of carrying a plastic card, an EcoCash user can simply “swipe” their cell phone when paying through a credit card terminal. This means that over 2 million Zimbabweans who are currently users of EcoCash now also have a debit card on their phones, says Econet Wireless Services Chief Executive Darlington Mandivenga.
The interaction between a credit card terminal or Point Of Sale (POS) device is a uniquely Econet innovation. A team of software developers, working at the London offices of another Econet company called TPS, developed the software.
Econet has already started rolling out 10,000 terminals across the country that will not only accept the EcoCash Debit Card, but also any of the traditional credit cards such as American Express, Visa, MasterCard, including those issued by local banks, says Mandivenga.
The announcement by Econet that it has implemented this service for its EcoCash users means that Zimbabwe now has the most advanced cashless system in Africa per head of population when compared with countries such as South Africa, which has one of Africa’s highest mobile phone penetration rates. It also eases the need for United States dollar bank notes in the country.
Mandivenga says Econet plans to have every store in the country, including rural areas, with an ‘EcoCash Terminal’. The company will not sell the terminals as they cost nearly $500 each but will lease them to participating stores and merchants.
The terminals work on the Econet network and are completely wireless and more advanced than those used in many European countries. At point of sale, the customer initiates a “pay merchant” transaction from their EcoCash Wallet on their phone. The customer will then enter the merchant number and amount, and the EcoCash Terminal will print out a merchant copy to be signed by the customer and to keep for their records.
Mandivenga says Econet will allow any bank in Zimbabwe which is integrated to its EcoCash network to also issue its own cards and use the terminals.
The Zimbabwe government has welcomed the Econet initiative which answers the call for the country to go cashless. The company has also managed to complete a process of developing a payment system that would have taken at least five years to accomplish.
With Zimbabwe also hosting the World Tourism Conference in August, it means Zimbabwe will be able to demonstrate that is it has the capacity to accommodate even the most sophisticated tourists and visitors, who in their countries would only pay with plastic credit cards.
Press release supplied by Econet Wireless
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