Why bank customers should embrace plastic money


Zimbabweans have over recent years developed a culture of carrying hard cash and using hard cash for most transactions, large and small. Whether one is buying groceries for $50 or paying for a car worth $10 000, there is a huge bias for using cash in our daily dealings.

By Clive Mphambela

This is in spite of so many alternative platforms available for people to avoid queuing in banking halls or carrying large amounts of cash which in itself poses a high personal security risk.

Indeed there are several risks of using hard cash or carrying large sums of cash on one’s person. The cash economy also imposes other hidden costs, besides the high risk of loss, in the intervening period before it is banked.

What are the most common types of plastic money?

The generic term “plastic money” predominantly refers to the hard plastic bank cards that are issued to account holders for their everyday use, in place of hard cash (bank notes or coins) or cheques. In Zimbabwe, we generally call these plastic cards “ATM cards” because of their predominant use for making withdrawals at automated teller machines (ATMs). They come in various forms.

How can bank customers make the most of plastic money?

Debit Cards: These are cards that do not have a loan facility tied to them but will directly debit money from your bank account when they are used to purchase goods and services, but they are linked to a customer’s available credit bank account balance. Using a debit card, a customer cannot transact beyond balance that is marked as “available” on their account. They are normally linked to a savings account and in rare cases, where a customer has an overdraft facility, the card will also allow transactions to the extent of the overdraft.

Credit cards: This type card will permit the card holder to withdraw cash from an ATM or purchase goods and services directly from stores that accept the type of card up to the “credit limit” of the card. The money withdrawn from this type of card is basically a form of short-term loan to the card holder. Most credit card facilities carry no direct interest charge for the amount “borrowed” but a fee is payable to the bank for accessing the facility. Interest normally becomes due after a certain cut-off date provided the balance is still outstanding on the credit card. The card holder can avoid any interest charges by paying the balance off in full each month before this date.

Pre-paid cash cards: These are a form of debit card, except that they may not be linked to a bank account but for example be linked to a mobile banking wallet. As the name suggests the user will upload a cash credit balance to the card either by themselves at an ATM through a bank or other authorised agent, and expenditures or withdrawals from the card will not exceed the amount stored on the card. All the details about the customer and the amounts and details of transactions are stored on a magnetic strip or micro-chip on the card. These are usually re-useable in that they can be ‘topped up’. Typical issuers of such cards are banks and large stores.

What are some of the benefits of using plastic money?

Ready Convenience: Credit and debit cards offer hassle-free shopping. There is usually no need for carrying cash, no additional credit checks, although additional identification requirements are usually required in addition to the private Personalised Identity Number (PIN). This increases the security of funds and limits the use of the card to its rightful owner although it is sometimes viewed as a small inconvenience of the cardholder in undertaking his shopping.

Widespread access through the Zimswitch Network

The Zimswitch network comprises 19-member banks, which have deployed over 4 000 Zimswitch enabled Point of Sale devices nationwide in all the major regional and local retail outlets. In addition there are close to 400 Zimswitch compliant ATMs, some of which are located in remote areas so that banking services are within the reach of many people.

Security: Cash carries a big risk of loss. One can easily drop a wallet and once it is lost, it is usually lost forever. On the other hand, if you lose your credit or debit card and quickly report it to your bank, the unauthorised use of your card will be stopped quickly without any loss.

Flexibility: There is flexibility associated with using plastic money. Plastic cards give access to ones money at many different access points such as point of sale machines and also at any time of the day. The bank does not need to be open, and one can access their money sometimes even when they are away from the home country, if the card is issued for international use.

Reputation and status: Sometimes a credit card can be a measure of your credit worthiness It can tell a story about how you handle your finances.. When lenders want proof of your credit worthiness, they can consult your credit history for a black-and-white snapshot of your ability to repay facilities granted to you. A credit card can also be regarded as a status symbol

Is it all rosy? What are the risks of using plastic money?

Despite the many advantages that are associated with the use of plastic money, it is important to understand that there are also some risks that must be mitigated.

Over extension: Plastic money especially credit cards give cardholders an easy and extended purchasing capacity, which can result in an extra and unwarranted spending and impulse buying. Thus credit cards can easily sometimes encourage owners to spend money on non-essential things, negatively affecting their budgets. Customers need to take care not to end up in financial difficulty due to abuse of ready credit.

High cost of interest: Credits cards can be costly to use as the money cost much more than other forms of credit, such as personal loans. Transaction charges are also usually added to the credit amount, which can make the eventual repayments much more than you would have anticipated. Care is need ed when using credit cards.

Card theft and fraud: Credit and debit cards can be stolen. In today’s world it is possible for criminal elements to even clone your credit card or debit card, in such a amnner that it would work as an original card. It is therefore important for one to keep identity particulars, PINs and the card separate at all times. When a card is lost, customers must immediately alert the bank so that the card is blocked from unauthorised usage which can lead to heavy financial loss.

It is however important for banking customers to appreciate that the advantages of using plastic money far outweigh the few disadvantages.

l Clive Mphambela is a banker. He writes in his capacity as Advocacy Officer for the Bankers’ Association of Zimbabwe (BAZ). BAZ expressly invites other stakeholders to give their valuable comments and feedback related to this article to him on clive@baz.org.zw or on numbers 04-744686, 0772206913


  1. NO NO NO we will keep our US$ with us, under the pillow, in our drawers, under our beds, in our suitcases etc etc . We will never ever bank our hard earned US$ never ever. We are not stupid to believe your thesis about plastic money. You Clive are talking on behalf of the banks so that you hook wink Zimbabweans into banking their money to increase banks’ liquidity…NO NO NO we are now enlightened and we will not listen to your gospel!!!!!!

    • Plus mumabank muri kuitwa credit card fraud zvisingaite. Ukanoreporter vanongoti hatikwanise kukubatsira ipapo mari yatoenda. Saka zviri nani kuchengeta mari yako pasi pepillow. Unoenda nayo kwaunoda. Hauna macharges. Unokwanisa kuishandisa chero paunoda. Hapana queue. Ivo mabank ngavaupgrader masystems avo. Haukwanise kuita internet banking kunze kwenyika nokuti pane zvemaSMS. Uyezve vemabank vane poor customer service. Kungo deposita mari unoita zvekuquewa. Ecocash ikaita nani.

  2. Bring in Silver and Gold Coin first and don’t issue us fake Paper Money which is untrustworthy such as the total IMF controlled Dollar which is made out of thin air and don’t bother us with silly
    questions such as where the money comes from and where the money is going to when
    trying to withdraw some so we can be free of your crazy socialism and forced collectivization.

    Than we shall come back.

  3. Well presented article but Mr Clive that is not applicable to Zimbabwean situation.Who would ever trust the banks to be in custody of their monies given the rate at which banks are closing?I would not want to mention every detail for the sake of not wanting to scare more people away from banking their monies and avoid bank runs as well.Get the banking sector sorted first then address people with such issues.In short no one in Zimbabwe wants to hold a bank account but you will find he/she will have an account because of circumstances beyond their control namely (1)one has to get his/her salary through a bank (2)and or be it business or personal , one would be wanting to get a loan facility.if its was not for those two you would not see any individual or business owners having bank accounts.Having a stable banking environment is the main issue here.Thank you.

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