Challenges of expensive internet & net neutrality highlighted as cash crisis in Zimbabwe steers banks towards online banking

Nigel Gambanga Avatar
Brainworks, Mobile Money services in Zimbabwe

The cash crisis in Zimbabwe has had a string of obvious consequences over the past few months.

Long bank queues are commonplace, plastic money use has surged with banks increasing investments in Point of Sale(POS) terminals and mobile money cashouts are the new alternative to ATM withdrawals

All this has also been accompanied by the aggressive promotion of mobile financial services that can substitute the use of cash.

Tools like mobile bankings apps that some banks had invested in with limited advertising have earned a substantial amount of coverage in the past few months.

This was bound to happen as commercial banks try to maintain their customers’ loyalty by reminding them of alternatives that actually spare them the hassle of a visit to their nearest branch.

It’s encouraging  to see the adoption of mobile services in providing a solution for some problems that are affecting a lot of people.

In an industry that locally hasn’t been as adaptive to changes in technology as it should be there’s a sense that this crisis has actiually helped turn attention to the impact that technology can have.

However, these apps are also a reminder of the unresolved issue of broadband costs and the absence of net neutrality in the country.

Bank account holders still need an internet connection to access the various services that each bank is tying together on their applications, something that becomes a challenge if the cost of access is a barrier itself.

In the absense of regulatory address and a shift in market forces that push mobile broadband providers to review their services accessing applications, however essential they may be, accessing internet based applications still lies beyond the reach of a majority of users.

This problem is paired with the challenge of an uneven distribution of the internet that has been created by products like WhatsApp and Facebook bundles.

Mobile broadband subscribers that are making the most of an expensive broadband pricing structure turn to the affordable internet options presented by service providers, and in the process neglect other online services which require their own data allowances and such are deemed to be expensive.

This is the contrary to what should be the case in an illiquid financial space where tools for a cashless experience are supposed to be the most popular accessories.

With the telecoms regulator, POTRAZ, maintaining an active role in financial services deployment through the internet, the effect of unadressed challenges around broadband and net neutrality ought to be something that it looks into.

The cash crisis hasn’t just highlighted the weaknesses of a struggling but dollarised economy, it’s also emphasised how broadband cost adjustment and net neutrality need to be adddressed.