Zambia: Banking in the ‘UNBANKED’ in Zambia

By Nawa Mutumweno – There is a revolution in the Zambian banking circles with cellphones being an integral tool in accessing one’s account anywhere anytime, something that was a dream a few years ago. Now mobile banking is no longer a fleeting illusion but a stark reality.

Gone are the days when one had to stand in a line for hours on end just to get a bank statement or balance. Today, banking flows like clockwork and service is only a click of a computer mouse away.

Mobile banking services have made banking a pleasure by reducing transaction costs, improving payment systems and helping customers avoid time consuming traditional banking services that, for instance, required one to queue for hours on end.

The most popular m-banking solution in the country is Xapit introduced by Zanaco, the Rabobank-managed financial institution, a few years ago. Indeed the mobile banking craze has spread like wild fire with many a customer getting on board.

Xapit gives the customer the zeal to bank as it enables one to carry out the following functions:- Balance Enquiry, Mobile Banking Transfer, Inter Account Transfer, Airtime Top up, Bill Payments, View Mini Statement and Manage Account. Not only that, one can also send a message to his/her bankers. Xapit is indeed Instant Banking at its best!

“With the mobile phone transactions, the bank was breaking the barriers of traditional banking to make it more convenient, accessible, fun and cheaper,” observed Mizinga Melu, Managing Director of Standard Chartered Bank Zambia Limited.

The British-headquartered bank’s offering (called Phone Banking) allows customers to view their statements, transfer funds between accounts, buy airtime for their mobile phones and pay utility and other bills, enquire about products and services, know the status of issued cheques, check forex rates, and check fixed deposit rates .

In emerging markets such as Zambia, mobile technology is transforming access to banking services for people living in both rural and urban areas. Zanaco firmly believes that the unbanked are not unbankable. It has developed a mobile banking model around the principle that the bank comes to its client, instead of the other way round.

Pan-African mobile service provider Mobile Tecommunication Network (MTN)  has already partnered with Standard Chartered Bank to provide mobile banking service in all countries in Africa where MTN and Stanchart have a presence. Mobile banking is also available for Airtel Zambia’s subscribers who have accounts with Zanaco.

Providing a mobile phone number and account number is the ‘shortest route’  to SMS Banking at Ecobank Zambia, one of the country’s new financial entrants from West Africa. The service allows the customer to ‘take Ecobank along’ wherever he/she goes to request account balance or statement and view the last three transactions on the account.

Ecobank also provides eAlerts which offer an early warning service via SMS of debits and credits on the account due to cash  and cheque withdrawals and deposits, debit card transactions at ATMs, fund transfers and any other transactions that may affect a customer’s account balance.

“Now I can do my banking without visiting my branch just by using my cellphone, thus saving on time and travel expenses,” said one customer who preferred anonymity. “In the past, banking was a hassle, a time consuming and inconveniencing experience. Today, banking is something you look forward to!’

Mobile banking offers the opportunity to reach out to the current 3.5 million mobile phone users. Since the launch of telephone banking in late 2008, Zanaco has opened approximately 50 000 mobile banking accounts. Prior to this renaissance on the country’s banking horizon, Barclays Bank Zambia  used to have Telephone Banking which could be accessed from a landline.

Bank of Zambia (BoZ) Governor Caleb Fundanga said at the country’s first Mobile Banking Conference organized by Celpay Zambia in 2009 that mobile service providers and mobile banking solutions developers need to have in place robust business continuity plans that will ensure minimum disruption of service.

“As we embrace mobile banking, the primary objective of Zambia’s mobile banking framework should be to empower the millions of citizens who do not have access to conventional banking. The essential spirit of mobile banking should be financial inclusion,” he enthused.

Celpay Zambia organized the first ever Mobile Banking conference from September 16 – 17, 2009 which brought together leading industry stakeholders to share experiences and insights on mobile banking. Participants were drawn from Tanzania, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia.

Mobile banking literary puts banking under the customer’s thumb. For the discerning customer who wants to avoid the meandering queues, and enjoy the pleasure and security that this service offers, wherever and whenever one needs it, mobile banking is the best ‘bet’.

Zambia has not been left behind the e-banking tide that has simplified the art of banking and made it a pleasure. The country has 17 banks namely, Access Bank, BancABC, Bank of China, Barclays Bank Zambia, Cavmont Capital Bank, Citibank, Ecobank, Finance Bank, First Alliance Bank, First National Bank, Indo-Zambia Bank, Intermarket Bank, Investrust Bank, Standard Chartered, Stanbic Bank, United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Zanaco.

“Our internet banking solution covers the Ecobank network in 18 countries in West and Central Africa, making it possible for corporate in one country in the region with accounts in other Ecobank affiliates access to the various account details in respect of country or currency. Ecobank internet banking is available in French and English,” according to information obtained from the West African bank.

Two other new entrants from West Africa are Access Bank and UBA which both offer quality e-banking products and services. For instance, UBA has a full electronic platform for payroll administration for corporate clients. Going beyond payment of salaries, corporate are given a convenient, secure electronic alternative to manage employees. Some of the e-banking services include E-Dividend, E-Tranzact, EMS, U-Direct and Bank Collect.

From the developed financial market of South Africa comes First National Bank (FNB) with a solid e-banking base. FNB’s online banking is a web-based electronic banking solution allowing the client the benefit of direct, secure and real-time electronic access to an account as well as the opportunity to manage financial affairs anytime, anywhere. The bank also provides email statements. Also originating from RSA is Stanbic (also known as Standard Bank) where you can access latest balance, statements, view account details, print or download your statement on all accounts linked to the bank’s AutoBank.

Citibank provides a powerful new way to bank that puts banking functions all in one place – at one’s fingertips and within reach of the organization. For small companies, it means accessing global capabilities from the desktop and for multinationals it is about getting a handle on the world. Citi Direct is the cornerstone of Citibank’s vision of the future of banking. Customers can access information on bank balances, initiate both local and foreign exchange payments.

On the Zambian-owned banks front, Cavmont Capital Bank offers an Account Application online while Investrust has an Online Document Centre that provides useful electronic products in PDF format. There include Tariff Guide 2010, Bank Account Opening Form, Bank Account Brochures, Financial Reports, Quarterly Reports and Annual Reports. Intermarket recently introduced an e-payroll facility that is providing a great and flexible salary management solution for employers.

One success story is Finance Bank, a Zambian and Bank-Suisse-owned institution that provides internet banking through a secure and easy way to manage money matters online at home or anywhere where a customer has internet access at his/her leisure 24/7. The bank also provides i-finance which offers a step-by-step guide on how to use internet banking services.

The giants on the Zambian banking horizon include Zanaco (formerly called Zambia National Commercial Bank prior to its re-branding and acquisition of major shareholding by Rabobank of the Netherlands). The bank has E-Tracer, a paperless and cost-effective solution through which you can receive account statements electronically daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly through email.

The long-timers are the international financial heavyweights Barclays and Standard Chartered who have been in the country since pre-independence days. The bank has in place the latest fibre optic and satellite technology which allows online handling of transactions. Its Business Master International, an electronic cash management system that links the customer’s computer to the bank’s financial system, has balance and transaction reporting, money transfers and electronic mail services. Standard Chartered has the e-statement where you can access account details daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly according to the specification on the subscription form. It also has Straight2Bank, a full suite of electronic delivery channels that provides the customer with the flexibility to choose the right banking connections as reflected by business structure and needs, providing a fully integrated end-to-end electronic platform across the bank’s cash, trade, forex and security services.

In  2009, the Zambian government approved a  global cyber security protocol that is aimed at protecting internet users. This is in view of the upsurge in African cyber crime targeting the financial sector which is threatening to derail the smooth roll out of internet banking and electronic commerce services.

All in all internet banking in Zambia has come of age and is set for unprecedented growth in the coming years. Indeed the future of banking in the country is being defined.