He continues to live up to the reputation with a new venture that's as bold as they come.
The founder and chairman of
It's no small task: Masiyiwa essentially wants to replace printed currency with digital money, transforming his native country into
Can it be done? It's not as far-fetched as you might think.
In the late 2000s, the country suffered from such mind-boggling hyperinflation -- at its height in 2008, a can of Coca-Cola that cost ZIM$50 billion in the morning would cost ZIM$150 billion at the close of business on the same day -- that the government abandoned its own currency in 2009 in favour of currency from other, more stable countries.
But the "dollarization" of the economy has created a new set of problems. The limited number of bills in circulation are old and tatty, and shopkeepers are unable to make change due to a shortage of coins. That means shoppers are forced to accept change in the form of chewing gum, cigarettes, and other small items.
Enter EcoCash. "EcoCash has been able to take advantage of this situation by providing an alternative medium of exchange from physical dollars," says
"When payments are made at stores, change can be provided in the form of an airtime top-up or mobile money."
There's no question that EcoCash is filling a basic consumer need in one of
In a little over two years, the service has registered 31% of
With an early success on its hands,
Driving EcoCash growth ... Darlington Mandivenga, CEO of Econet Services
"EcoCash is a strategic response to a strategic challenge," says Darlington Mandivenga, CEO of Econet Services, a subsidiary tasked with expanding the company's non-traditional revenue streams, including microinsurance and microfinance.
"What is happening in the telecoms industry is that revenues are stagnant, if not on the decline, with [average revenue per user] under pressure for various reasons such as competition and market saturation."
To help EcoCash become
At the same time, the company is using bank-grade technology to fast-track interoperability with
One of those services is
"The vast majority of the population is unbanked and trapped in cash," says
"Businesses and service providers were without the critical market infrastructure required to create fee-for-service business models and develop financial products designed to help the poor withstand potentially ruinous financial shocks such as crop destruction."
If successful, could
"Rather than a universal model, EcoCash is specific to
USAID's McGowan was also unconvinced.
"Fully replacing cash is highly aspirational," she says, "and hasn't been achieved even by countries like
Nonetheless, EcoCash must continue to build confidence in its digital payment system.
"Customers need to be assured that money stored on their phones electronically is truly liquid and will retain its value," says Brookings' Chandy. "If customers get spooked, they may intuitively run back to physical cash."
This article was originally published by
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