BY MISHMA CHAKANYUKA
ZIMBABWE’s largest mobile money operator, EcoCash, has launched a bureaux de change called The Smart Change Money as the firm steps up efforts to source forex.
The launch comes at a time when the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) is licencing many applicants to offer similar services in order to increase forex trading on the struggling interbank foreign currency exchange market. According to studies, Zimbabwe needs about 200 bureaux de change firms to ensure that the interbank market performs efficiently.
EcoCash’s exchange rate yesterday stood at US$1:ZWL$10,80 against the current average of US$1:ZWL$10,50.
“In terms of now, we have licenced quite a number of bureau de change. More importantly, we continue to receive applications, meaning more applicants are coming and we also continue licensing, showing that
competition is building up,” said RBZ exchange control director Obvious Runesu, speaking at the official launch of EcoCash’s bureaux de change in Harare yesterday.
“As the regulator, we applaud EcoCash for taking their place in the bureaux de change market, but we say they were almost late given the number of people that have applied.”
The creation of the EcoCash bureaux de change comes as a follow-up to the mobile operator’s foreign currency account (FCA) wallet, created in November 2018.
The wallet was designed to allow users to cash out US dollars or pounds sent by relatives at any Econet shops or Steward Bank branches.
Users will be able to use the EcoCash bureaux de change by first funding their FCA wallets, then converting those funds into Zimbabwe dollars through the unstructured supplementary service data platform.
Runesu urged bureaux de changes to continue harnessing cash flow into the formal sector and provide systems that protect their customers.
Recently, President Emmerson Mnangagwa revealed that an average of US$5 million was being traded on the interbank forex platform.
“We encourage EcoCash and other bureaux de change to continue finding ways to check into this market, to harness bringing cash into the formal sector. You also want to take cognisance of the fact that we have
customers of which part of them are not quite conversant, so you should be fair and protect your customers,” Runesu said.
“May I also remind the bureaux de change market that the RBZ is always there to assist. We train your employees, we train your tellers, we are available, especially on issues that you might not be conversant with.”
EcoCash, launched by telecommunication firm Econet Wireless in 2011, is now part of the group’s smart tech subsidiary, Cassava Smartech Zimbabwe.
According to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe report for the first quarter of the year, EcoCash controlled nearly 95% of the mobile money market.
As such, with the launch of the bureax de change, EcoCash will be looking to make money from fees charged per forex transaction from EcoCash FCA account holders.
In total, EcoCash had 6 313 721 active mobile money users at the end of March this year.