Cash shortages affect mobile money services as agents run dry

Nigel Gambanga Avatar
EcoCash, Econet ZImbabwe, Mobile Money, Mobile Banking in Africa

As Zimbabwe’s cash shortages continue to worsen the extensive network of mobile money agents across the country has emerged as a reliable alternative but now the agents themselves are running out of cash.

When we carried out a snap survey in Harare over the past 24 hours we discovered that several mobile money agents in the central business district and downtown area had run out of cash which should have been distributed through “cash-outs” which are withdrawals from mobile money wallets.

Agents that were still offering cashouts were only doing so for limited amounts as a way of remaining liquid for other transactions throughout the day.

Other services like cash transfers haven’t been affected though all agents we spoke to highlighted the reduction in cash-in transactions (deposits into mobile money wallets).

Services related to cash outs such as mobile money remittances have also been exposed to this shortage. Recipients are forced to use the money they receive at service centres that have mobile money payment alternatives.

This latest symptom of the national cash crisis is hardly surprising, though.

As bank account holders continue to face challenges in withdrawing cash from their accounts via ATMs or in-branch withdrawals, those that have bank accounts linked to services like EcoCash are transferring money to their wallets and cashing out from the mobile money agents.

EcoCash, the country’s largest mobile money service is linked with seven banks and registered users can move money between their accounts and their wallets.

This, however, comes with costs that are significantly higher than bank withdrawals though the current cash shortages that are now creeping into the mobile money agent network suggest that the preference for cash continues to outweigh the huge costs that come with moving money out a mobile money wallet.

Mobile money agents brace for hard currency shortages

Another explanation is that mobile money agents are also holding on to whatever cash they can get their hands on as a wave of uncertainty grips formal banking.

With the pending introduction of bond notes which has been viewed by most people as the return of the local currency, service providers that can get their hands on significant amounts of cash have every reason to hold on to this money.

They’d rather hold on to the cash instead of banking it regularly and face the hassles involved with withdrawals or any other payments made outside the country.

Other than the benefits that can come from selling this cash, there’s also the need to have enough money for restocking.

In an environment where the majority of products on the market are imported this is a huge concern for most retailers that happen to handle a lot of cash while offering mobile money services on the side.

The only way citizens are going to be cushioned from all these challenges will be through the use of cash alternatives for payments that include mobile money payment options, Point Of Sale terminal transactions and support tools like debit cards for mobile money wallets.


  1. Jilted Agent

    It is impossible as an agent to have a perfect cash in: cash out ratio. With so many cash outs, you will be left with too much float in your agent wallet and not enough physical cash.Fortunately Econet had an arrangement with Steward Bank where an agent could draw cash down from their wallet for a flat $2. That all changed recently, you must pay 6% at steward bank to withdraw cash!!! That is robbery as Ecocash only pay agent commission of 2% for cash outs. So you’d need to be willing to make up to a -4% loss to continue in that business. If cash really is selling at premiums of 10%, surely that makes better sense if you were sitting on cash than setting up agency?

    1. ggg

      ecocash is having nightmares since remember according to them even I’d all agents and clients chhoise to cash out then they can pay all of them out. with what’s happening g ecocash has now lost the power they used to have since if they play around with agents a person will choose to waln away with the cash in their pocket and leave them in the dust.
      has you deserve it when I joined telecash I am reminded of an arrogant representative coming and pretty much threatening covertly they would can cel my agent account if I didnt stop. well I refused since my workers and rent was paid from my cash. and told them so what you wish. what foes around cones around.

  2. Gaka

    It was a matter of time before EcoCash feels the liquidity pinch.

    Money is coming in via Reserve Bank and to salaries & company accounts then to the individuals concerned. EcoCash does not mint money. The formal sector is still the source of the greenback. It would be great if banks accessed their Nostro accounts outside of the RBZ framework.

  3. Imi Vanhu Musadaro
  4. ggg

    look at this way the easiest way to get cash is to only do cashins as an ecocash agent. imagine you transfer money from an account for float and then people give you cash. like the 6% levy for seloads wikk work.
    nah e econet has been hit as well and the fact they are on the hook for all wallet balances is scary.
    when I’m hit by no agent akloqibg me to cash out I just go to an eco et shop & they have no option but to give me my money.