EcoCash and ZIPIT should know the power they have, these system outages are not acceptable

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Since yesterday EcoCash users have been facing some challenges making payments. EcoCash acknowledged the system problems on Twitter in response to frustrated Twimbos who were asking. It is frustratingly slow to load if it even loads and EcoCash communicated that they are working to resolve the issue, on Twitter. Why not SMSs advising people that the system is down.

Last month ZIPIT, the interbank transfer processor went down for the better part of a day and many were inconvenienced as they could not make payments. ZIPIT later said the outage was due to a planned system upgrade. We found that hard to believe as the banks were clearly clueless to the upgrade. We believe it was ZIPIT trying to save face.

The Zimbabwean government is currently pushing citizens towards plastic money and away from cash. It is no secret that we have a cash crisis in this country and efforts by the government to move people away from transacting in cash have largely worked. As of June this year only 20% of all transactions were in cash, that makes 80% for electronic money transactions.

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EcoCash processes well over 90% of all mobile money transactions and ZIPIT processes over 14 million transactions per month. These two services are integral to our lives now. It is with this view that the Minister of ICT’s concerns over EcoCash’s dominance start to make sense.

As we now depend on electronic payment solutions for our everyday lives it is imperative that the systems be reliable. It is not enough to be told ‘we are sorry for the inconvenience caused.’ Sometimes those payments going through is a matter of life and death, like the rumoured soldier who was beaten to death when his payment was slow in going through.

Okay, most times it is not a life and death scenario but it might still be so important that the inconvenience they speak of is really a major setback.

Personally there was a time when I had school fees due and had the money in my EcoCash account and as bad luck would have it, on that due date EcoCash’s services were down and I could not effect my payment. I had to borrow from a friend but I almost failed to find someone with cash just sitting. If I had missed that payment I would have had to wait 6 months to register again. That’s 6 months of my life just wasted.

There is a friend of mine who missed out on a major deal because he failed to transfer money in time. He had to put in a deposit on a hugely discounted item and as it was discounted thus someone else who had cash paid up and poof went the deal. It is in moments like those that one longs for the simple days of cash transactions and explains why some still resist these electronic payment solutions.

Sometimes it is not a huge deal or a deadline that is due but just a simple transactions that need to go through or it gets embarrassing. Imagine you are in a queue in a supermarket and you are so hungry you start nibbling on your pie then you get to the till operator and they tell you that ZIPIT is down. Imagine you have no cash with you and imagine the embarrassment.

We understand that no system is so solid it never fails but we can’t be blamed for expecting that. We need ZIPIT, EcoCash and all the other players to guarantee us that they will maintain their systems regularly and when they plan on upgrading those systems that they notify us in advance so that we can make the necessary arrangements. Is it too much to ask?

So ZIPIT and EcoCash if you are listening, we understand that outages are inevitable but when that happens we would appreciate timely communication. When you plan system upgrades ZIPIT we would appreciate it if you followed EcoCash’s example and make sure we know about it beforehand. What we would really appreciate is less of these outages. We believe there is room for improvement.

Like one Twitter user said, ‘If ZIPIT and EcoCash went down on the same day there would be a strike.’ That should never happen.

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