1 March 2014

Zimbabwe: RBZ Weighs Into Ecocash, Telecash War

THE central bank has moved to end the raging turf war between e-money transfer service providers Ecocash and Telecash after it emerged the former was barring its agents from working with the new comers.

Ecocash, a subsidiary of the country's largest telecoms company, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, launched 2011 and has amassed a rich base of 7000 agents.

The facility is credited with capturing Zimbabwe's largely unbanked but economically active population.

Rival mobile phone firm Telecel has since launched its own product - Telecash - taking off with 1,600 agents already registered during launch while offering a more refined product which enables the transfer of money across network.

But Ecocash has accused Teleceol of recruiting its agents, some operating in kiosks availed by the giant mobile service provider for the purpose.

In an apparent bid to protect its territory, Ecocash has pushed the largely unpopular principle of "exclusivity", which forbids its agents from cutting similar deals with the competitor.

Ecocash argues that, as pioneer of the product, it has invested heavily in marketing the facility within a largely conservative population with fresh memories of the country's banking crisis.

The company also argues it has spent considerably on customer education, agent education and training, risk, confidence building, agent network until now when the system has become universally embraced, As such, it says, its competitors could not just piggyback off its investments.

In an effort to end the turf war, the country's banking regulator, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), has weighed in by quashing the "anti-competitive" moves by the country's largest mobile service firm, insisting this violated the laws dealing with national payment systems.

"It has come to the attention of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe that some mobile payment system operators are entering into agreements with agents in terms of which the agent is precluded from acting for any other mobile payment system operator," RBZ National Payment Systems senior executive Josephat Mutepfasaid in a statement.

"The said exclusivity agreements or covenants are likely to have an adverse effect on competition and may be detrimental to the smooth operation of payment systems in the Country.

"Exclusivity agreements will consequently hamper the Reserve Bank's efforts of promoting financial inclusion and the expansion of financial services in the economy."

The central bank went on to prescribe conditions for the squabbling e-money service providers.

"An agent may offer services to multiple payment system providers provided that the agent has separate contracts for the provision of such services with each institution and the agent has the capacity to manage the transactions for the different payment system providers," the central bank directed.

"Where an agent provides services for more than one payment system provider, such an agent may enter into a confidentiality agreement with each of the payment system providers for whom the agent will act.

"Any payment system provider seeking to contract an agent which has already been contracted by another payment system provider to carry out agency services shall assess the capacity of the agent to manage transactions for different payment system providers.

"Where a payment system provider requires entering into exclusive arrangements with an agent, the payment system provider shall apply to the Reserve Bank justifying why such an agreement is necessary.

"The Reserve Bank shall consider such application and may approve or dismiss the application or may give an appropriate direction thereto."

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