In Zimbabwe Coke refers either to all fizzy drinks or just to a particular soft drink. The same goes for EcoCash and mobile money. There is competition in the mobile money sector but for most, EcoCash is synonymous with mobile money.
We are all aware that that dominance ended up being a curse for EcoCash. The government vowed to clip their wings and you could say they managed to clip those wings a bit.
Watching that whole episode makes one understand why Google does not want you saying you ‘Googled’ something. They want you to say you searched for it.
Being synonymous with ‘search’ hurts the argument that they are not a monopoly. EcoCash should have been equally worried about people saying ‘I’ll EcoCash you the money.’
EcoCash bleeding subscribers
The results of the government’s efforts to clip EcoCash’s wings can be seen in EcoCash’s customer counts. As reported by EcoCash themselves, this was the subscriber movement from 2020.
- 2020 – 10.8 million
- 2021 – 8.4 million
- 2022 – 7.7 million
This means EcoCash has lost 3.1 million subscribers (29%) since 2020. That’s 700,000 lost from 2021 to 2022. Which is a lot.
We should remember though that these figures are for registered customers, not necessarily active customers.
We know that EcoCash had 6.8 million active customers in December 2019 according to Potraz, just 2 months before the reported 10.8 million above. The absolute numbers may be lower but the percentage drops should be similar.
Some of the reasons for this loss of customers are; the directive to limit individuals to just one account, the regulator-assisted collapse of the agent network, low upper limits placed on mobile money transactions, the collapse of the ZW$ and the resultant move to USD cash by the public, the emergence of competition in what was EcoCash’s stronghold – remittances.
Most of the reasons above stemmed from the regulators’ actions. However, we cannot rule out that EcoCash itself could have done better.
To remember though is that the loss of customers does not necessarily mean a drop in transactions. In fact, EcoCash transactions accounted for 81% of all national payment systems transaction volumes, up from 80% in 2021.
However, in terms of values there was a drop from 8% to 6% of national payment systems values. Indicating that the transaction limits imposed by the government led to smaller but more frequent transactions.
Can EcoCash reverse the trend?
EcoCash really has to be proactive and innovative to stem the tide. Their chances of getting some of the adverse regulations overturned are slim to none.
One mobile money account per individual is here to stay. The government would rather outlaw mobile money outright than let EcoCash build out its old and extensive agent network. Transaction limits are likely par of the course going forward.
The collapse of the ZW$ has been a huge challenge too. This has been coupled with an acute shortage of the ZWD in the market and the result has been rapid dollarisation. In the USD world, services like EcoCash’s are not essential. Cash is king in that world.
That may be but the reality is that the USD still has to exchange hands and it gets really inconvenient to have to do that in person every time like dealing in cash necessitates. So, the demand for USD remittance grew as USD use increased.
While EcoCash licked its wounds after a lengthy sparring session with the regulator, competition sprang up and took a piece of the USD domestic remittance pie. Such that when EcoCash re-entered the space, they felt like just one of many competitors, no longer the obvious choice like they were in the past.
We can blame the government for the collapse of the ZWD but that doesn’t explain how EcoCash lost some ground in the remittance space. Yes, EcoCash was unfairly targeted at times and they were distracted, trying to fight for survival but still.
Now they have to fight off the competition and the government that slapped a high 4% tax on those USD remittances.
Catch them young
The reality is that EcoCash has been close to saturating the market for years. Even after losing 3.1 million subscribers since 2020, they still have 92% of the adult population. Getting back the 3.1 million from that demographic is nigh impossible at this moment.
So, EcoCash is looking to the youth. Exactly a month ago they launched the EcoCash Junior wallet, a mobile wallet for children between 9 and 18 years of age.
This should get them a few new customers. After all, Zimbabwe has a young core, with our median age being around 18 it makes sense to target the young ones. Time will tell just how clever an idea Junior wallet was.
How has your EcoCash use changed?
Most of us used EcoCash extensively at some point. Many of us don’t use it like that anymore. Apparently, 3.1 million of us actually closed our accounts. What changed? For those that stuck around, how has your usage changed? Do let us know in the comments below.