Rwandan bank I&M partnered with a Norwegian firm to launch a blockchain based solution called SPENN and it is a big deal.
SPENN is a mobile banking application and that is how it appears to the general public. It looks just like other mobile banking apps everyone is used to. But that’s on the surface. The difference between SPENN and those other apps is the technology which powers it – blockchain technology.
Blockchain technology is the same technology which powers cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. You may be wondering what it means when it is said SPENN is powered by blockchain technology. Does it mean they are launching their own cryptocurrency? NO.
SPENN merely digitises the national currency – meaning that it is simply converting the national currency into digital form and using blockchain technology to help store and move it between different accounts. This is similar to the digital money in your bank account or EcoCash wallet right now.
On EcoCash’s platform you can ‘cash-in’, send money to anyone, they ‘cash-out’ and get cash. The person you send to can just choose to keep it in their EcoCash wallet or send it to another person who sends it to yet another person. The money being sent to and fro on the EcoCash platform is not a different currency to the physical bond notes on the streets.
SPENN works in a similar way. After downloading the app and registering, a user gets a digital account and can immediately transact with others on SPENN. Users can deposit (cash in), send money and cash out the national currency.
However unlike EcoCash and friends, all services on the platform are free. Yes, FREE. It is free to deposit, transfer funds, make payments in stores and cash out. Deposits and cash outs are done at I&M bank branches. One doesn’t even have to have an account with I&M bank to open a SPENN account, so everyone with a smartphone can get in on the action.
Therein is the challenge with SPENN. Whilst it promotes financial inclusion by offering free services to all citizens it still requires users to have smartphones and access to the internet. In Zimbabwe for example where the internet penetration rate is around 50% most people will still be excluded.
What Zimbabweans invested in blockchain technology have to say about SPENN
Regardless, SPENN is a wonderful idea and the players in the blockchain space in Zimbabwe are excited and hopeful that the Zimbabwean government will see the potential of blockchain technology through SPENN.
The Blockchain Association of Zimbabwe said,
This should be an indicator of the need for Zimbabwe to urgently look into this matter at a national level. We need to set up a national task force that investigates how we can push towards becoming a leader in Africa in blockchain technologies.
The country director for clic.world said,
I am convinced its the right step for Africa and in Zimbabwe we feel we have a unique opportunity to trail blaze and be a case study across the globe on how blockchain technology helps nascent economies such as ours achieve sustainable economic growth, anchored on transparency and accountabilty . Blockchain Technology will also hasten the alignment of Zimbabwe’s economy to other modern and progressive economies around the globe, whilst delivering world class service to its citizens.
State of Blockchain Technology in Zimbabwe Report
Blockchain technology is what makes cryptocurrencies possible and in turn applications like SPENN possible. The technology however has so many other applications and Zimbabwean companies are utilising it.
Techzim recently released a report focusing on the practical applications of the technology, the companies currently utilising it in Zimbabwe and the barriers to adoption in Zimbabwe.
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