2 June 2013

Zimbabwe: Govt Can Craft Own Solutions for Change

Over the years, I have been challenging colleagues -- experts in the financial sector -- to come up with creative and innovative solutions to Zimbabwe's economic problems, rather than watch from the sidelines.

One of my friends who just returned home after spending six years in foreign countries was surprised that in Zimbabwe we hardly have coins in circulation for small change.

He said it was unfair on the consumer and a sheer waste of money to have to buy something as trivial as a box of matches or chewing gum because there are no coins for the change.

For instance, if you buy items amounting to US$13,45, you would need to push your total to US$14 just to overcome the need for 55 cents in change that the retailer often does not have.

This scenario obviously works to the retailer's advantage; hence they are not particularly keen on finding a sustainable solution to this problem, let alone bother to actively accumulate the few coins that are in circulation.

When you objectively look at this scenario from a value for money perspective, one ends up buying groceries worth US$13,45 for US$14.

Zimbabweans in foreign countries have been exposed to a lot of development in the financial sector, therefore some of them have an ability to craft solutions to such problems, especially those in the west like in the US.

A friend of mine at a university in the US suggested that it might be worthwhile to local bankers and retailers to look into a savings programme called "Keep the Change", provided by the Bank of America to its clients as a solution that is beneficial to all parties involved.

The programme is a small but meaningful way to start or add to one's savings and investment pool by providing an automatic savings plan that rounds up every purchase that one makes using a debit card to the nearest dollar and depositing the change daily into an interest bearing account for free.

'Plastic money is the way to do it'

The Bank of America matches 100% of all savings generated in this manner for the first 90 days up to a maximum of US$250 and then pays 5% thereafter. It works pretty much like an electronic piggy bank.

To qualify, the client should be a current and a savings account holder of the same bank.

I believe our local banking sector can take a leaf from these foreign countries and implement this service for debit card holders in a way that suits the local business environment.

Instead of banks soliciting for deposits into savings accounts and constantly complaining about the lack of culture of saving in Zimbabwe, this programme creates an environment whose benefits are for all parties involved.

The other alternative that I believe is feasible for Zimbabwe and the panacea to this change problem is the use of EcoCash in business transactions.

It may be costly when it comes to charges incurred when you use EcoCash, but it really helps to solve the change crisis that has been bedeviling the country since the introduction of multi currencies in 2009.

This programme brings pleasure to saving money and takes away the notion that it is a boring and tedious affair, the matching of savings by the banker, if feasible in Zimbabwe, it could help show political will on the banks part.

As Zimbabweans, it is about time that we start crafting innovative and creative solutions that can help resuscitate our economy and look after our hard earned money.

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