Last year, Telecel Zimbabwe pulled a ‘surprise of the year’ move on all of us; A mobile operator killed its mobile money service. No one knows (well, except them and probably ZimSwitch) when exactly Skwama was killed because it was done silently, only to be disclosed when we asked about the disappeared product in September last year. The reason offered: they preferred just providing the GSM network technology and letting financial institutions innovate on the mobile banking front.
Telecel was first to the mobile money game when they announced the introduction of the Skwama service back in December 2010, almost a year before Econet followed with EcoCash. The promise back then was that Telecel would enable subscribers to “use their cellphones to buy groceries and airtime, pay bills, deposit, withdraw money and do money transfer”. The unbanked would benefit, they promised. Ofcourse, somewhere along the way to that mobile money heaven, they handed over the whole dream to the banks. Econet came along eventually to deliver the same promise and, $1.2 billion EcoCash transactions later, Telecel may be reconsidering.
Finally, because a Bloomberg report last week says the new GM, Angeline Vere, believes mobile banking is an area of opportunity. She told Bloomberg: “We have all seen how mobile banking can allow unbanked people into the mainstream economy and how it can drive growth for the whole economy”
But we honestly have no idea why she used the term “mobile banking” instead of “mobile money”. Mobile banking is what they have been so far; a dumb pipe in the background that just transmits third party value added service signals. Mobile money is what EcoCash is.
So anyway, we contacted the company to find out what exactly they meant and what they are hopefully planning. The response we received is that they are keeping mum. “We have no additional comment to make on this at moment but we will be sharing with you material developments when they happen,” said the Telecel’s Communications and Branding Director, Obert Mandimika.
None the wiser we are. But very hopeful still. Mobile money in any market globally is still in its infancy, and it’s not too late to wake up. We love that Telecel has a ‘neutral network policy’ (just lack of better phrase) allowing VAS providers like banks to play. But we also love innovation, speed, and most of all, impact!