There is nothing I hate more than using USSD payment based systems like ZIPIT, Ecocash and OneMoney. The whole thing is like walking on your hands- it’s very possible but unnatural. It also doesn’t take you very far. Don’t believe me, try doing five ZIPIT transactions using USSD.
Zimbos live on WhatsApp and therefore need more local payment solutions on it
While people are using the internet more and more at the expense of voice, for most Zimbabweans, WhatsApp is the internet. This is because the majority of people, about 95% according to POTRAZ, prefer using bundles instead of out of bundle browsing and it is these bundles that shape the way we consume stuff online. WhatsApp bundles just happen to be the most accessible.
This has led to a lot of informal businesses setting up shop on the platform. A lot of tech-savvy sellers out there are already taking advantage of some of the features that WhatsApp business offers including catalogues. Sadly the Zimbabwean WhatsApp shopping experience is sorely lacking with the platform only being used to initiate transactions which are then concluded in the real world.
Recently WhatsApp introduced a shopping cart feature. Unfortunately without the necessary payment system in place, this feature will not be of much use to Zimbabweans. I mean there isn’t really much point in having the ability to add products to a cart when you cannot checkout, is there?
Sosholoza showed us the way
This alone should be reason enough for banks and mobile money operators to develop official WhatsApp based payment systems that are tightly integrated with the platform. Imagine if sellers could easily set up a WhatsApp a based store the same way you can start selling on platforms like Shopify. WhatsApp is clearly headed down that road given the features they are adding, developing a local payment gateway will allow local institutions to stake a claim in that future instead of having Zimbabweans painfully waiting for PayPal to relent and let us in from the cold.
In the meantime, before WhatsApp completes that dream, a WhatsApp based way to transact would be nice. Steward’s Sosholoza has already shown us what can be achieved. I was often shocked about how little this service was known outside my nerd circles.
I am speaking in the past tense about Sosholoza because it appears dead. On 3 November, their business account was converted into a normal account which probably means they no longer have access to WhatsApp’s official business API. That no one I know has noticed this until now is surprising but understandable.
While Sosholoza was innovative, it tried to do too much for everyone. They billed their service as an “Any wallet/bank to any wallet/bank” service. Now ZIPIT can do that too, there is simply no need for a service that not many people understood in the first place to exist anymore. You can just ZIPIT your money from any wallet/bank to any wallet/bank.
A more focused service would fare better
There is still room for a simpler more focused WhatsApp based banking service. Think of all those mobile banking tasks you do by way of USSD being replicated on WhatsApp instead. Take for example Ecocash and it’s related services, imagine if you could do all these via WhatsApp, not only would that be a less tedious and error-prone way of doing things. Would you rather do an internal transfer using USSD or via WhatsApp?
People are already there on the platform, Sosholoza has shown that it can be done and WhatsApp seems to be gravitating towards a fuller shopping experience and we have a thriving WhatsApp informal business community.
It’s all there for the taking. Zimbabwean banks and mobile money operators should really look at WhatsApp.