The use of digital financial services at face value looks widespread in Zimbabwe. Almost every street has a business that is accepting digital money. Even the vendors are accepting mobile money, an indication that mobile money is now widely universally accepted.
“We accept mobile money” signs are now more common than road signs in most towns. Even the once popular “Chiremba Surgery” signs have been overshadowed by mobile money graffiti.
I am confident that there are many individuals in this country including me who believed that Zimbabwe’s financial inclusion statistics had improved significantly. Walk into any supermarket now, and queues for mobile money and “Swipe” queues payments have become longer than the cash only payment queues. That in itself is an indicator of acceptance of digital financial transactions which should translate to improved financial inclusion.
We all believed we had mountains in terms of financial inclusion. On one corner we have banks playing their part through the agent banking model and making noise about it. Micro finance institutions including micro-finance banks are fighting in the second corner claiming they have representation in all corners of the country.
Insurance companies that have done their part by offering micro insurance products to the bottom of the pyramid clients are in the third corner. In the fourth corner are those that have worked hard in the last decade to ensure that the bottom of the pyramid class has at least has a bank or mobile money account ; mobile network operators.
This scenario is like a boxing ring in which the financial services industry has representation and attacking from four corners while the common enemy is financial exclusion.
Revelations from the deputy governor of the central bank in Nyanga recently have shown that the efforts to ensure financial inclusion can be likened to a boxing match between retired heavyweight boxing icon Mike Tyson against primary school boys. Punches are going in from all four corners, but the big man is still standing. But the deputy RBZ governor said it looked like the boys in the boxing match were not well fed, given that an estimated 67 percent of Zimbabweans remain financially excluded.
The biggest pothole
There is a strong belief or we are inclined to believe that exclusion has been caused by lack of confidence in the banking sector due to what happened in the past from 2000 to 2005. To me, low confidence in financial services is not the biggest challenge to financial inclusion. Confidence might be low, but I do not think those who were banked before the crisis do not have accounts now. They probably have a mobile money account and a micro insurance policy, but lack access to credit. They cannot get loans. It will be wrong to classify these as financial excluded.
In fact if we were to measure financial inclusion geographically I’m confident that towns and cities will be close to 70 percent inclusion and rural areas probably below 10 percent. In towns and cities it’s not unusual to hear small children talking about mobile money. Take time and travel to the rural areas and the picture is totally different.
Recently I was on an NGO mission assisting the NGO’s beneficiaries to appreciate and use mobile money. It is then that I realised the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank was so right, we are excluded as a nation.
Not far away from the capital, where I was working I met citizens who did not know how to change their mobile money PIN to obtain cash. I tried to convince them that there was no need for them to withdraw cash they can actually keep the money in their phones and transact from there. You can imagine the response I got. “We are not that sophisticated” was the response. In such communities cash is still King.
Our biggest pothole that is exacerbating the exclusion problem is the lack of knowledge. But how then do you teach someone who has never been to school? This is a huge market for whoever is willing to take it but, it seems the whole financial services sector is not willing to venture in there due to the cost involved. If financial inclusion s a national priority then there is need to find a way. If banks are not going to be giving out cash as suggested recently what going to happen to these populations.
Is it not high time that we came up with a design that caters for this population who can neither read nor write? The designs that we have so far are only taking care of the few that are comfortable with technology. How about customer journey mapping for all financial services providers under the supervision of the central bank. This will allow the service providers to come up with solutions that are human centric and aimed at the illiterate.
How about hand gesture icons as a start for this sector. Hand gestures for withdrawals (cash outs), deposits (cash Ins) and the many other use cases that people use on a daily basis. We know private companies may not be in a position to invest in such a development. In comes the central bank and the NGO.
The world is becoming financial and we can’t afford to leave some citizens behind.