Cheers to mobile money & e-commerce opportunities in our cashless society

Nigel Gambanga Avatar

Let’s not talk about Zimbabwean economics. The debate is long and boring, doesn’t usually have a positive outlook and has a very familiar outcome with fingers pointed at who did or didn’t do what they are supposed to. You’ll also get comparisons on whether 2015 is as bad as 2008, and how the US Dollar has meant an illiquid market. You know, the usual stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with tech.

There is the one exception though that is tech but has everything to do with boring economics; mobile money. This one form of technology, borrowed from East Africa’s M-Pesa, has been doing a lot of talking in terms of how money is moving in our illiquid economy.

Reports have carried the latest statistics from the Central Bank indicating an increase in electronic transactions for the first quarter of 2015 in comparison to the same period last year. From January to March 2015, $1.3 billion worth of transactions were conducted on mobile and online platforms. The leading contributor is, understandably, mobile money, with EcoCash being the largest contributor to these totals.

With a bigger focus on informal trade (we have been called a nation of vendors), the introduction of follow-through services that rely on mobile money (remittancesinsurance, bill payments, payroll, integration with traditional banking) the trends reflected in these numbers are somewhat predictable.

Everything is pointing to mobile money as the star in the present economy. Even Econet’s recently published annual results showed a strong performance and growth from mobile money despite economic and industry challenges that have reduced revenue and profit for operators.

Is this a signal of opportunities for e-commerce entrepreneurs?

After looking at convincing numbers, the question is what can come out of those trends. One clear case is the emerging opportunity in e-commerce. Sure we already have e-commerce startups in one form or the other, but these numbers on cashless transactions just reaffirm the belief more and more citizens have in conducting business in a virtual environment.

There’s less work needed to convince the market that something can be paid for securely online or in the absence of actual cash. That’s not to say that e-commerce is now easy to jump into, far from it. There are countless other problems that e-commerce entrepreneurs have to solve, which explains why it hasn’t had such a huge take-off.

Any aspiring e-commerce entrepreneur has to salute how mobile money’s growth has helped reduce the barriers to e-commerce and online trade in our economy. There are a lot of opportunities that haven’t been explored in local e-commerce, but thanks to Zimbabwe’s transformation into a cashless society, pursuing them is a lot simpler.