Enhanced mobile wallet services.
With its EcoCash mobile money service, Econet Wireless intends to position Zimbabwe as the most advanced mobile money market in Africa, establishing the country as the most “cashless” society in the region. Econet is also seeking to provide financial stability and inclusion to a country that has experienced well over a decade of economic instability. Econet Wireless’ goals extend to banked and unbanked members of society by offering a range of services, from basic person-to-person (P2P) transfers to enhanced mobile wallet services.
EcoCash is a mobile money service launched in October 2011 by Zimbabwe mobile provider Econet Wireless. EcoCash is operated by a separate Econet Wireless subsidiary, Econet Services, which has its own management, governance, and resources. This unique business model has had a beneficial impact on the development and performance of the EcoCash service, which has seen a marked acceleration over the past 12 months.
The EcoCash service began by focusing on mobile money services based on person-to-person (P2P) money transfers. This basic offering enabled EcoCash to rapidly build a core customer base. Additional services have been added to EcoCash so that it now provides a more fully formed mobile wallet service, including:
● EcoCashSave saving account. This service allows existing EcoCash customers to set up a savings account and earn interest with as little as US$1. No minimum balance is required to open an account. The service is designed to appeal to the informal business sector that is typically not served by traditional banks because of low profitability.
● International remittances. Remittances services from South Africa to Zimbabwe were launched in September 2013. Research from First National Bank (FNB) Zimbabwe estimates that 1.9 million Zimbabweans live and work in South Africa, sending about US$740 million a year back to Zimbabwe.
● Banking services. Available to customers of banks integrated into the EcoCash platform. Services include the deposit and transfer of funds between a customer’s bank account and their EcoCash mobile wallet, along with mini-statements and balance inquiries.
● Payroll services. Disbursement of employees’ salaries to their mobile wallets by EcoCash-registered employers.
● Transport. In October 2012, more than 200 commuter bus operators started accepting EcoCash for transport payments. More operators expected to follow.
In March 2013, EcoCash launched an innovative service for mobile proximity payments in the retail environment. Econet Services developed a Point of Sale (POS) solution, working in conjunction with another Econet Wireless subsidiary, Transaction Payment Solutions (TPS). When checking out at the merchant POS, customers enter the merchant number (each merchant is assigned a unique identifier) and amount, and the EcoCash terminal prints out a merchant copy to be signed by the customer.
Econet Services has invested in 10,000 POS terminals for lease to retailers. The service also provides a flexible fee structure whereby merchants can pay either a fixed monthly fee or a percentage of purchase transactions. EcoCash has also designated a dedicated team to help educate merchants about the benefits of adopting the service, such as reduced cash-handling costs and increasing shopping experience satisfaction among customers.
Many opportunities are available for further service innovation and adoption growth among Econet Wireless’ subscriber base: three million of its total eight million subscribers currently use the EcoCash service. With this growth objective in mind, in September 2013, Econet Wireless announced plans for a multi-million dollar investment in the EcoCash platform that will increase its capacity four-fold and help to support new services.
The first major initiative enabled by this upgrade was an international remittances service between Zimbabwe and South Africa launched in September 2013. Further potential exists for Econet to provide international remittances in the region, such as in Zambia and Botswana, while longer-term opportunities include services with the United Kingdom and United States.
EcoCash is also seeking to bring previously banked customers back into the banking ecosystem. Econet Wireless is the dominant mobile player in Zimbabwe with a 74 percent market share. To some customers, Econet is a more trusted organisation than the banks following Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, when people’s faith in the formal banking system was badly shaken and many closed their bank accounts.
Mobile Proximity payments. Econet has ambitious plans for EcoCash mobile proximity payments in retail, but this offering will be challenging from both a consumer and merchant perspective. Econet has the large task of educating consumers about the value of proximity payments, which is a very different proposition than the basic P2P transfers with which they are familiar. Econet will also need to work with merchants to increase their understanding about how investment in supporting mobile proximity payments will pay benefits in increased sales and business growth.
International remittances. EcoCash is planning an expansion of their international remittances services, but will face strong competition from established rival international money transfer services including Mukuru, First National Bank (FNB) Western Union, and MoneyGram.
Service costs. Given the high up-front costs in EcoCash (agent commissions, service marketing, and promotions) as well as ongoing investment in service developments such as the platform upgrade, Econet may find it challenging to deliver on its promise that EcoCash will be profitable within three years of launch (Q4 2014 onwards). In addition, Econet will need to control costs carefully and ensure that more advanced services (e.g., mobile proximity payments) will deliver on acceptable margins.
Platform partners. Mahindra Comiva, mobile value-added services provider, supplies the core platform for the EcoCash service. Econet Wireless has also taken the step of acquiring its own bank grade switch from ACI Worldwide. This switch acts as a layer between the core EcoCash platform and third-party banking platforms. The ACI switch is based on banking standards (ISO 8583) and enables fast, efficient integration with banks.
Banking partnerships. Banking partners include Stanbic, CBZ, and TN Bank, the latter being 100 percent owned by Econet Wireless. Stanbic Bank was the first international bank in the country to integrate with EcoCash. Six other banks are expected to follow in partnering with EcoCash.
EcoCash Agent network. Agents are key to the success of mobile money in emerging markets, and Econet Wireless has invested heavily to build a robust agent network. Econet Wireless pays out 80 percent of its EcoCash revenues in the form of commissions to the agent network. In August 2012, EcoCash had a 7000-member agency network that includes sole traders, post offices, and other small businesses.
● In December 2012, EcoCash significantly expanded its agent network via a partnership with OK Zimbabwe, the country’s largest supermarket chain. OK Zimbabwe is the first major retailer to join the EcoCash agency network. The agreement is set to become even more significant going forward as OK Zimbabwe is expected to become part of the merchant acceptance network for EcoCash mobile retail payments.
The EcoCash business model is based on revenues from consumer and merchant charges, the typical structure for mobile financial services. EcoCash revenues stood at US$13 million in August 2013, a significant increase over the US$2 million reported in 2012.
However, EcoCash is not yet profitable due to high investment costs. Econet Wireless anticipates that it will start to become profitable within three years from launch (Q4 2014.) Econet Services operates EcoCash in a start-up mode, with the long-term investment and payback that model implies.
EcoCash launched in September 2011 and has experienced rapid growth in subscribers. By August 2012, the service had 1.7 million subscribers, which increased to 3 million in August 2013.
Transaction volumes and values are also increasing. In its first half of 2013, EcoCash generated over 50 million transactions worth over US$1.1bn in value. Total transaction volumes since the service launch stand at an estimated US$2.2 billion. This rapid growth trajectory puts EcoCash second only to Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money service in the region.
For More Information
To find out more about the EcoCash from Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, go to http://www.econet.co.zw/ecocash.