The government is considering new regulations that will force telecoms operator Econet to allow local banks unlimited access to its mobile banking service, the state media has said.
In a speculative report Thursday the Herald newspaper said the central bank could use its power under the National Payment Systems Act to regulate the mobile money sector.
The country’s largest mobile operator is locked in a dispute with banking industry players who want to access to the telecoms firm’s millions of subscribers, to offer their own financial services.
The banks have since turned to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to intervene in the dispute, and possibly come up with regulations to force Econet to open up.
At present there is no regulation governing the lucrative mobile banking sector which has earned Econet at least $2 billion through money transfers by its three million plus subscribers who use EcoCash.
Realising the huge gains to be made in the sector, traditional banks have been trying to roll out their own financial products to Econet customers, but the telecoms firm is resisting the move.
Banks such as Stanbic, CBZ and Agribank are integrated within Econet’s Ecocash system, but only as agents. For the banks this is not good enough as what they want is “equal cost-effective and tamper-free access to Econet’s network for the delivery of their own mobile-based services,” George Guvamatanga, president of lobby group Bankers Association of Zimbabwe, and a Barclays Bank executive said last month.
Economist Godfrey Kanyenze said he is not surprised that other banks are calling for regulation of the mobile banking sector, given that billions of dollars can be made from the sector.
Kanyenze said: “It is one of the fastest growing sectors in terms of reach and access to the previously unbanked population, especially in the rural areas.
“And so whoever manages to access this population becomes very powerful and I think that is where the fear lies. So introducing regulation is about diluting the power that might be concentrated in one player.”
ICT expert Robert Ndlovu said that any regulatory framework will also enable government to tap into new revenue streams through taxation, considering that Econet is the largest telecoms operator in the country.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa indicated last week the central bank is reviewing the regulatory framework to cover all aspects of mobile banking, and that the government will be taxing services such as EcoCash at 0.05%.