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津巴布韦:系统维护造成市场瘫痪,移动支付是否真的完美?

国际资讯基于互联网平台的金融业务

津巴布韦:系统维护造成市场瘫痪,移动支付是否真的完美?

本周,津巴布韦主要移动支付网络EcoCash平台停摆两天,给诸多消费者和企业带来不便。比如,很多购物者无法在超市和其他商店正常结账,Facebook和Twitter等社交平台上也充斥着用户的不满声音。

EcoCash与津巴布韦国家控股电信运营商NetOne、Telecel等公司并称津巴布韦主要的数字支付与汇款平台。

过去六年中,通过EcoCash进行的交易总量高达230亿美元,使其成为亿万富翁Strive Masiyiwa的Econet Wireless的重要收入来源。与肯尼亚知名的M-Pesa一样,津巴布韦的EcoCash主营支付和交易服务,同时覆盖账单支付、商家支付和小额保险,以及与该国大多数金融服务公司相互关联的平台上的银行服务。

除此之外,EcoCash还经营津巴布韦与南非、博茨瓦纳之间的外籍员工汇款服务。据统计,目前该平台在津巴布韦共有800多万注册用户。

津巴布韦储备银行表示,以移动货币为主导的数字支付手段占2017年津巴布韦975亿美元交易总量的90%以上。而从规模角度来看,2017年津巴布韦进行的10亿笔金融交易中,有约四分之三(7.54亿)的交易都是通过移动平台完成的。而从价值方面来看,移动货币平台的处理额高达180亿美元,远高于2016年的58亿美元。

然而,EcoCash的这次“系统维护”事故却也让人们怀疑,移动支付真的那么完美吗?

与社交媒体或内容提供商数字平台一样,所谓的“网络效应”倾向于为领先的移动货币提供商提供比竞争对手更多的优势和效率,使其更加强大。 比如Safaricom在肯尼亚的M-Pesa移动货币平台就取得了成功,其市场份额超过80%。

多年来,津巴布韦的恶性通货膨胀历史使得该国公民对影响该国金融体系的种种威胁都异常敏感。有些人甚至建议使用比特币进行财富保值。不过,目前津巴布韦已经禁止银行处理虚拟货币支付,希望借此打击加密交易。

除了津巴布韦自身的挑战外,非洲各国政府、发展顾问以及各种非政府组织和投资者都大力推动吸收移动货币服务,以此作为帮助扩大人口过少的国家金融普惠性的一种方式。未来,随着大多数非洲国家移动电话普及率持续上升,应该会有更多人使用移动电话来提高便利性、降低交易成本。

如今,津巴布韦的经济仍处于低迷状态,银行也不能向获得外汇的账户中存入美元。此外,该国央行还驳回了总统Emerson Mnangagwa政府计划在7月30日选举前恢复津巴布韦元的想法。

然而,与之对比起来,这次EcoCash移动支付系统的影响才是真真实实的。

Although mobile money has become the leading transaction platform in Zimbabwe, its weaknesses came into focus this week after the dominant EcoCash network in Zimbabwe went down for two days, and left many consumer businesses floundering in an already difficult economy.

EcoCash, which competes against smaller platforms run by state controlled telcos NetOne and Telecel Zimbabwe, has more than eight million registered users in Zimbabwe and allows for remittances from expat Zimbabweans in South Africa and Botswana.

But in the past few days, the EcoCash platform experienced glitches, which Econet blamed on “scheduled maintenance” of the system that powers the platform, with just about all of the service options under EcoCash down, heavily impacting business transactions in Zimbabwe and adding to the country’s ongoing forex and economic difficulties.

Shoppers had been stranded in supermarkets and other stores for over two days, but the situation has since improved. Econet has been at pains to explain the glitch was caused by a scheduled system upgrade and that it is now back up running. But frustrations have been running high, with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter largely giving a window into the raging angst against Econet.

As much as $23 billion has been transacted through EcoCash in the past six years, say officials, making it a significant revenue stream for billionaire Strive Masiyiwa’s Econet Wireless which runs it. Like Kenya’s better known M-Pesa, Zimbabwe’s EcoCash allows for payments and transactions ranging from bill payments, merchant payments and micro insurance to banking services under an interlinked platform with most of the country’s financial service companies.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe also says digital payment means, led by mobile money, accounted for over 90% of the $97.5 billion in total value transactions for Zimbabwe in 2017. Of one billion financial transactions processed last year, more than three quarters, at 754 million payments, went over mobile platforms. In terms of value, mobile money platforms handled as much as $18 billion, significantly up from $5.8 billion in 2016.

The disruption of such a dominant financial platform has raised serious questions in Zimbabwe about about the inherent vulnerabilities of mobile money, especially given the dominance of one mobile wallet over others. Like with big digital platforms such as social media or content providers, a so-called “network effect” tends to give the leading mobile money provider additional advantages and efficiencies over rivals, making them only stronger. This has been seen with the success of Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money platform in Kenya where it has over 80% market share.

Much of the Zimbabwe debate online and elsewhere has been about a real risk of loss of money in the event of a big platform crashing. Zimbabwe’s long troubled history with currency and hyperinflation has made the average citizen more sensitive to any suspected existential threat to the country’s financial system. Some people have even suggested bitcoin as a solution to the risks though Zimbabwe has all but crippled crypto transactions by banning banks from processing virtual currency payments.

Aside from Zimbabwe’s own challenges, there has been a big push by African governments, development consultants and various NGOs and investors, to encourage the take up of mobile money services as a way to help expand financial inclusion in countries with too few people have formal bank accounts. The hope is that as mobile phone penetration continues to rise in most African countries more people will use mobile money for convenience and lower transaction costs.

Zimbabwe’s economy remains in the doldrums, with banks no longer allowed to give US dollars to individuals who receive forex in their accounts. There has also been talk, which the central bank has dismissed, that president Emerson Mnangagwa’s administration plans to bring back the Zimbabwe dollar before elections on July 30. But the EcoCash glitches have been real and the impact large.


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