Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Diasporans can beat Zim’s cash shortages with mobile payments

By Chofamba Sithole

The crunching cash shortages in Zimbabwe are the source of much frustration and inconvenience. For those in the diaspora, especially, it is disappointing that after sending one’s loved ones cash to meet crucial obligations, they are not always able to access it on demand and have to miss important payments as a result.

Diasporans can beat Zim’s cash shortages with mobile payments
Diasporans can beat Zim’s cash shortages with mobile payments

This unhelpful situation is the function of the prevailing cash crisis, a very unusual situation where – of all things – money runs out while supermarkets are stacked with all manner of consumer goods. Banks have reduced daily withdrawal limits to ridiculously low levels – no more than $50 for some – and accessing this isn’t guaranteed even after spending the night in a queue.

Apart from streamlining daily cash withdrawals, banks as well as the government continue to encourage wider use of electronic or digital payment platforms. Adversity is said to be the mother of invention and innovation, and in Zimbabwe’s case many are seeing a perfect opportunity for Zimbabwe to fully welcome the latest technological developments and become a cashless society.

Mobile money stands out in this regard as the most pervasive digital platform in the country. As the technology website Techzim put it recently, “Less than a year ago, the idea that one could make all their payments with their phone or bank card was a distant reality. Everything has changed in just a few months. The only cash payments people still need to make are just for public transport (kombis), small grocery items at tuckshops, and veggies at community vegetable stalls (musika) and maybe, increasingly, DStv.”

This reality bodes well for Zimbabweans in the diaspora, who can now enjoy the ability to remit funds and pay for goods and services using the new Ecocash Home Wallet app. The app allows Zimbabweans abroad to use Ecocash as though they were in Zimbabwe. So rather than remit cash, which one’s recipient may not access quickly enough to make urgent payments such as electricity bills, rent or mortgages, school or college fees and so on, one can make the payments directly from abroad.

Econet Group’s fintech subsidiary, Cassava (formerly Chitoro), unveiled the product in London a few months ago, calling it ‘a first in the world of remittances between the UK and Zimbabwe’. Cassava is the company through which all EcoCash mobile money services are managed across Africa.

For the first time ever, Zimbabweans in the diaspora are now able to take direct control of how the money they remit to Zimbabwe is used. They can sign up for the EcoCash mobile money service via the Ecocash Home Wallet app, and link it to their UK mobile number.

The app is available for download on the Google Play Store and Apple store. Once registered, a user in the UK will be able to top up their Home Wallet through a debit or credit card or bank transfer, which will allow them to send money home and perform all other transactions available on EcoCash in Zimbabwe such as pay bills, pay merchants, or buy airtime.

In the words of Natalie Jabangwe-Morris, General Manager for EcoCash Zimbabwe, “Gone are the days of having to queue at a high street shop to send money home, wait for several days for the money transfer to go through, and then rely on someone to handle other transactions in Zimbabwe on your behalf such as paying for school fees or any other projects back home. Regrettably, in such scenarios, we have heard of many instances where the money ends up being misappropriated. This is where the EcoCash Home Wallet comes in handy as the customer not only gets access to a remittance capability, but also gets direct control over how the funds will be used downstream.”

The app’s capability covers all major payments that people need to make, limiting the need for cash mainly to those products and services that are provided by small neighbourhood retailers and the informal sector. And so, as Zimbabwe continues to grapple with the cash crisis, a new culture of cashless transactions is fast taking hold.

The beauty of the technologies being made available as solutions to this challenge is their inclusivity. Not only has mobile money allowed the previously unbanked in Zimbabwe to come into the banking system and be able to transact freely, but with the Ecocash Home Wallet app, even the diaspora can transact as though they were in the country and enjoy direct control over their funds.

To sign up for the Ecocash Home Wallet service, visit https://www.cassavaremit.com/ecocash/united-kingdom/sign-up/.