The MasterPass App Had No Place In Our Market, Ecobank Wasted Resources Importing Back An African Innovation From America

Tinashe Nyahasha Avatar

Africa is a market, the best kind: a market that feels so inferior that it buys whatever you are selling as long as you are not coming from Africa. We always assume that whatever comes from outside our continent particularly from the West is a good deal and we need it.

I was disappointed to be at a Zimbabwe government meeting with an Indian delegation some time ago. Our officials were not prepared, they were just ready to be awed by the delegation. They thought the business people who had come had come to help them instead of realising that they were here for business. Every business person is a sales person, not a benevolent patron who wants to help.

The result of this disposition by our government and to be honest our African governments in general results in our countries buying a lot of stuff we don’t need. Do you remember that the Zimbabwean road authority once bought snow moving equipment instead of earth moving equipment to fix roads? NetOne Cellular once bought wrong transmission equipment. Hwange Colliery also bought wrong equipment just because it came as a loan.

What does that have to do with Masterpass?

MasterCard has announced that they will be killing the Masterpass QR app. I am not surprised. I think the Materpass QR was to Ecobank what snow graders were to ZINARA: a waste of resources.

When Ecobank launched their Masterpass QR I got excited. I thought the service was for scanning QR codes on products as you shopped such that you didn’t need to check out of the supermarket or something. Nope, the app was supposed to be for paying merchants in a similar way we pay merchants via mobile money except that instead of having a merchant code, you would scan a QR code specific to the merchant.

What’s wrong with that?

We had quite the debate a couple of weeks ago regarding this Ecobank Masterpass QR. I was saying it should never have been launched in Zimbabwe and possibly in many other African countries but a colleague was saying paying via QR codes was faster than mobile money merchant codes.

Maybe my colleague was right but that didn’t matter. The rule to launching and winning with a product in a market that already has something that works is that your offer must be at least 10 times better than the current solution. If not, customers will not bother to switch from what’s already good enough. This is called the 10X rule.

I didn’t see anything 10X about Masterpass for the African continent.

Mobiloe money an African innovation

The payments ecosystem in Africa was not as developed as that in the West at the turn of the millennium. However, that position led to an innovation that we now call mobile money. When mobile phones began to fill every pocket on the continent, it was a matter of time before the ubiquitous devices would be used for payments.

This did not happen in the West because they had a cards system that was good enough. Mobile payments were not 10X from were the West was. Trust me, paying via mobile is better than using a card for a number of reasons but if you already have a working system of cards switching to mobile payments is at best just being an early adopter geek.

In Asia it was QR codes

Mobile payments in Asia particularly in China utilise QR codes more than anything. They were also coming from a place of having no proper payments infrastructure and so like us they leapfrogged cards.

The West tries to catch up

Innovations like the Masterpass QR were attempts by big Western payments companies like MasterCard to adopt the interesting mobile payments revolution happening in Africa for their own markets. These companies were late to the party when it comes to mobile payments.

It’s then amazing to me how they then turned around and started selling this innovation to African companies. Even the way MasterCard introduced Masterpass QR was insulting in that they talked about how they were going to change so many lives in Africa for the better:

Mobile technology has changed the face of Africa, and by 2020 it is estimated that there will be 700 million mobile phone users on the continent. How can this technology be used to empower millions of citizens? The Ecobank Group is working with Mastercard to introduce Masterpass QR, a mobile payment solution, in order to reach 100 million new customers by 2020 across 33 countries. To give you some perspective it would take 1,055 of Africa’s largest football fields to accommodate this many people.


Is this about business or charity? It’s high time that as Africans we start refusing these documentary type adverts that show how global businesses are helping us catch up. They are not helping us catch up, they are exploiting us as a market.

There is nothing wrong with that of course. What’s wrong is our disposition that as long as they are selling we need to buy. EcoCash payments in OK supermarkets worked just fine thank you very much MasterCard.

Ecobank should have known that.


  1. Blessed

    Just like any new innovation, some level of resistance is anticipated. QR codes bring exceptional advantages compared to traditional POS terminals. QR codes will not require charging, they do not depend on any Mobile Networks to communicate.
    QR codes give the power to the customer who “pushes” funds to the merchant instead of traditional card swipe transactions where the merchant pulls funds from a customer’s acc. Specific to our Zim market, cloning risk is eliminated by Scan & Pay.
    I agree to the 10X analogy and i add that pricing and convenience have altered consumer behaviour in many innovations known in payments.

    Watch the space for a few QR code enhancements that are undergoing some development. QR codes will usher us into a new payments revolution.

    1. Tinashe Nyahasha

      So I am not saying QR codes don’t work! The product is not Qr codes, that’s just a specific technology. The whole offering had no space, that’s what I see as the problem

  2. Anonymous

    Let’s not forget that NFC enabled devices in Africa are expensive. The writer is Right

  3. mobiloe , hahaha

    “Mobiloe money an African innovation” WTF is this ? do you ever actually read what you write before publishing/posting your “articles”?

    1. Tinashe Nyahasha

      I do read what I write

      1. what is it, tell us please !

        so tell me, what is “Mobiloe” money ?

  4. Nice

    First of all this a bank we talking about. How do we know they did not Benoit from MasterCard…they could have charged a fee for using their branches for all we know.its a private profitable institution.gvt on the other hand there you have apiont but it’s more to do with corruption…I mean really which advice did they need to avoid getting snow plowers…these politicians know everything…they just corrupt.and it’s willing buyer willing seller….they will actually refuse the right things just to get a kickback even if it’s for free

    1. Tinashe Nyahasha

      Even so, the product failed in the mass market

  5. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    Too much noise over a simple issue. The issue being that ideas can fail. Even EcoCash has (had) EcoCash Ta. They even have QR code scanning in the EcoCash app, but noone is seems to be using it.

    Ideas can fail. It’s that simple. In my opinion there was poor publicity and user education, both for MasterPass and Ecocash Ta + QR codes. If it ever picks up, I’m sure there’ll be another article about the brilliance of African innovation.

    I’m not sure what innovation was imported back, as the author claims. But, it’s silly not to participate in a market simply because another product already exists. With that mentality, we’d all be using one network, one ISP and so on.

    Anyone who has been in a shop, wanting to swipe or pay cash, behind a person buying using EcoCash knows that it’s not 10X better experience. Its possibly a -2X experience. It doesn’t the mean that shops should abandon EcoCash. It has it’s advantages in certain contexts, just like MasterPass.

    1. Tinashe Nyahasha

      I agree with you that products fail. Probing why they fail is not a futile thing to do. When football analysts probe why Manchester United lost, they don’t do so because they don’t know teams lose.

      I also agree that one should not shy away from a market because someone else is already in. However, if they are not bringing something much better they are likely to fail. I contend that even with publicity and education Masterpass was not going to take off. It’s not about the QR codes but about installing a totally new app with a totally new wallet as was the case with Ecobank. Why would people do that?

      I disagree that EcoCash is not 10X better than cards. It maybe slower but it is highly accessible. It is that accessibility that makes it 10X. It has utility when buying from the smallest vendor as well as when sending money to your peers etc. The innovation that will come and dislodge EcoCash must not necessarily be 10X on those exact same metrics but it has to be on some.

      You are very right that sometimes we contradict ourselves. These are opinions at the end of the day and sharing them allows us to learn more from the ensuing debate

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