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Why is mobile money not popular in Zambia yet?

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The scenario above reflects how cash loving Zambia is. With banks scattered in some places while phones are in almost every hand, what would you rather pay with; credit card, cash or mobile money?

There are some reasons mobile money hasn’t yet become the go-to financial option for many Zambians:

Lack of available float/funds by agents: Recipients of funds sent through mobile money complain that operators agents usually don’t have adequate funds to make the payment withdrawal to them. They end up having to go from agent to agent to collect their cash. This is a problem where more people in one area are receiving more than they are sending, reducing the amount of available funds that the agent has in hand.

Lack of mobile money agent training: Some agents are not fully told the various options of mobile mobile payments. Their training may be limited to sending and receiving money and paying for utilities – which they pass on to clients – but not how to use all the merchant avenues to make other types of training. The mobile operators may also not provide refresher training to inform them of new mobile money features, or provide them with training material that they can use in-store for reference. There is also the hindrance to communication between agents and their point of contact at the time needed due to various reasons, leading to more time wasted and a client changing their mind about using the channel at all.

Lack of subscriber training: Some subscribers themselves have a hard time understanding how the system works if all they see on billboards and TV or hear on radio is the short-code for the service and what you can do with it, but not how exactly to do it. This results in many depending on the agents they visit being asked to handle the payments. This puts the privacy of the subscriber at risk as they may divulge really private information to the agent. 

Distance to agents: As much as mobile service providers may claim a presence in many parts of the country, the distance to one booth may be far from where consumers live, especially in rural areas, and the consumer is not guaranteed that the agent will have enough money to withdraw a certain amount. Airtel launched a Shuwa Shuwa campaign to assure subscribers that all their agents will have money available for transactions all the time but we are yet to see if they actually are ready for payments at all their booths countrywide. This distance is frustrating for most subscribers.

Lack of other incentives to use it, apart from paying utilitiesThe mobile money scene is very limited as to what you can use it for. Yes, utility bills and airtime payments are important, but isn’t there more to do with it? eCommerce is Zambia has got very few players who still complain about the lack of payment gateways. Before exiting Zambia, online shopping platform Kaymu offered a payment option through a mobile money platform, but got more people opting for cash on delivery as Zambia is still far from trusting ePayments. Mobile money providers could increase their awareness efforts, have more person to person interaction.

Businesses not making it other payment channel, operators taking long to open up APIs to them: there is still a large gap between fintech and mobile operators. We still see competition for the same service but if they work together they will win together. Mobile operators have a bigger user base than banks. Even though credit cards are provided by almost all banks, not every point of payment has a point of sale (POS) machine, whereas mobile money can shorten this by boosting person-to-person (P2P) transactions and creating merchant accounts on their platform so user can pay trader directly wherever they are in Zambia. Recently, MTN opened up its APIs to developers who will be groomed by innovation hub BongoHive, and we hope to see much ‘MoMo’ being utilised.

Network failures: How many times have you tried to access a service and a ‘network failure’ arises? Although this is sometimes beyond the control of the agent, the service provider has a duty to ensure that the pathways for transactions are left clear of such a mess, to allow smooth financial flow (and insults on their social media pages!)

Unpredictable regulatory environment: There is an atmosphere of ‘limitation’ of how many players a certain industry can have. Mobile operators have restrictions on many things, and to try out something new they have to apply for it with the regulatory body(ies), who may take their time depending on what the product is to finally approve it.

To make mobile money greater, there has to be an increase in fin-tech investment, more government incentives should be in place in the lead to promote mobile payments (the launch of tax online payments were a step towards this), eCommerce startups should be supported with payment gateways by both mobile operators and banks.

Feel free to add on personal or general reasons why mobile money adoption is taking so long to embed in Zambia in the comments section.


Tech Blogger & Marketer.

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