Zimbabwean operator Econet has introduced an airtime credit service via the EcoCash platform which will allow its more than 5 million customers to borrow airtime. This means that an Econet customer can use EcoCash or the EcoCash app to borrow airtime in denominations from US $0.30 to US $0.75 depending on the customer’s past usage pattern. EcoCash General Manager Natalie Jabangwe said given the recent cash shortages in Zimbabwe, this service makes it possible for EcoCash subscribers to quickly purchase airtime in case of emergency. Repayments can be made via EcoCash, out of airtime purchases made using the mobile-money system. Customers will be required to have an active line for three months and a minimum airtime balance of US $0.50 at the time they wish to borrow airtime. However, Jabangwe stressed that an EcoCash balance at the time a customer wants to borrow airtime is not a requirement for using the service.
It is very important for mobile operators to have a keen sensitivity to the particular needs of their customers and to tailor products accordingly. In this case, Econet is savvy to cater to its subscribers’ need for mobile services even when budgets do not allow on-time payment. If customers were not able to borrow, they might end their subscriptions and cease to be customers. Therefore the operator has apparently decided that keeping customers connected should take priority and that letting them borrow airtime and pay it back later will be beneficial for the revenue stream in the long run.
In addition, making the process operate over the operator’s mobile money platform is an excellent cross-promotion; it will not only encourage sustained use of the mobile services but also uptake of EcoCash use. As we have seen, mobile money has seen strong success in developing economies, especially in Africa, where people have limited access to banking. By linking mobile money with a flexible and generous program to keep users’ access to airtime continuous, we believe that Econet has hit on a winning combination.