2014 in retrospect: A product innovation perspective

At this time of the year, this column would traditionally review the entire year’s financial sector highlights, but this time I decided to do things differently.

Financial Sector Spotlight with Omen Muza

I highlight key financial products launched in 2014, the ones that made a splash and influenced the trajectory of financial sector growth in significant, often game-changing ways. Clearly, the influence of mobile financial services on the financial sector landscape was strong throughout the year.

January: TeleCash
Telecel launched TeleCash, its mobile money service and became the first mobile money service to connect to ZimSwitch, thereby gaining access to all banks on the platform. After appearing to be disinterested in mobile financial services for a while, Telecel finally launched a product to give EcoCash some real health competition.

February: Barclays BancAssurance
Barclays Bank Zimbabwe introduced a three-part funeral insurance product on a trial run from early February, with this pilot run covering five percent of clientele on the bank’s 140 000-strong database. This product signified banks’ willingness to venture into non-traditional areas in response to emerging competitive dynamics.

March: 20-year CABS Mortgages
CABS, the country’s largest building society by assets and market share, increased the tenure of its mortgages from 10 to 20 years with effect from March 1 2014 in a move that saw mortgage borrowers enjoying double the payback period than other players on the market could offer.

April: EcoCashLoan$
Against the backdrop of challenges faced by customers in accessing loans from financial institutions, EcoCash launched EcoCashLoan$, a facility that allows EcoCash subscribers to borrow funds mobilised under the company’s savings platform EcoCashSave. To access loans of between $5 and $500 one must have kept a minimum of $5 in the EcoCashSave account for at least three months.

May: Steward Bank Diaspora Banking Products
Steward Bank launched a suite of Diaspora Banking products targeted at Zimbabweans living, working or studying abroad, enabling them to carry out day-to-day banking transactions from their Steward Bank account from anywhere across the world. Access to the Diaspora Savings Account, Diaspora Current Account, Fixed Deposit Account, EcoCash$ave Account and EcoCash Banking Services is either through the online banking platform or a roaming Econet line.

June: PayPal
PayPal entered Zimbabwe, offering online payment alternatives for consumers via mobile phones or PCs. A bank card authorised for Internet transactions can register for a PayPal account and make payments to millions of sites worldwide. PayPal initially offered “send money” services for consumers to pay for goods and services at PayPal-enabled merchant sites at no cost to consumers since fees are covered by charges to merchants.

July: Telecel Gold Card & EcoCash Debit Card
Telecel launched the Telecel Gold Card, a debit card that can be used to make cash withdrawals and pay for goods and services through over 5000 ZimSwitch POS terminals across the country.

It also enables banked individuals to send money instantly to any Telecash account from any of the existing delivery channels already available in Zimbabwe such as POS terminals, ATMs, mobile banking and the Internet.

In the same month, Econet’s mobile money service, EcoCash struck a landmark agreement with MasterCard culminating in the launch of the EcoCash Debit Card, marking the first time the physical MasterCard debit cards were available to users of mobile money services in Africa. Three million cards were expected to be issued to EcoCash customers within five years in the largest rollout of secure EMV Chip and PIN payment cards in Zimbabwe to date.

The EcoCash Debit Card is directly linked to the EcoCash wallet, allowing users to pay for goods and services locally and internationally or even make online payments.

August: Doves’ Funeral Cover on the Go
Doves Funeral Assurance introduced Funeral Cover on the Go for civil servants under which the latter group, including Zimbabwe National Army members could register via SMS bringing convenience and affordability to funeral insurance.

September: Telecel’s Telecare Mobile Insurance

Telecel partnered with insurance company Zimnat Lion to launch Telecare Mobile Insurance, a mobile insurance product that provides three plans – Funeral, Hospital as well as Local and International Travel Cover – under one service to Telecel subscribers through their Telecel lines.

October: Champions Insurance’s Online Services Platform
Champions Insurance Company (Pvt) Ltd partnered ZimSwitch to offer insurance cover online without clients having to be assisted by a broker, in what the company described as a first for the insurance industry. This development — which deals the brick and mortar model a mighty blow — means that any Champions Insurance policy holder with a Zimswitch connected bank card can now make secure payments online.

November: Steward Bank’s Agent Banking Model
Steward Bank launched an Agent Banking Model aimed at increasing convenience and accessibility while reducing the overall cost of banking, leveraging on the existing EcoCash platform. Concurrently, Steward Bank unveiled the AllSave Bank Account as the primary account for individuals, which can be opened and serviced through this agent network with no monthly service fees, but with access to personal loans as well as online banking and EcoCash Wallet services.

December: EcoSure & SmartCash
Econet Wireless introduced Ecosure Funeral Cover, which allows Zimbabweans to access funeral cover on their phones without any paperwork or medicals. One has to be registered on EcoCash to register for EcoSure, which is underwritten by Econet Life (Private) Limited. The premiums range from $0.50 to $5.00 for sums assured ranging from $500.00 to $5,000.

In the same month, CBZ Bank introduced CBZ SmartCash, a card-based account which enables users to make cash deposits and withdrawals on POS machines, transact on over 5001 CBZ and ZimSwitch POS machines and ATMs nationwide, access CBZ Mobile Banking services, purchase using merchant Point of Sale and get cash back anywhere in Zimbabwe, enquire account balance, request mini account statement and do bill payments; all without incurring account maintenance and service fees.

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