Last week, Facebook launched WhatsApp pay in Brazil, a product the company had been testing in India for over a year. It’s essentially a mobile wallet feature for the app, meant to allow users to transfer and receive funds, as well as pay for and get paid for services they may advertise on WhatsApp Business. It’s a move meant to make WhatsApp more like Chinese “super-app” WeChat and seems initially targeted at developing nations as well. Which brings the question: Would Zim benefit in any way from WhatsApp pay.
For starters. We would have to start by thinking about how and if WhatsApp pay could be integrated into current Zimbabwean lifestyles and our financial system, and surprisingly it seems like it would fit quite well. The service connects to users’ bank accounts and seemingly local virtual wallets as well. This would mean users here could ideally connect the service to their mobile money and bank accounts, e.g. Ecocash and a CBZ account. The service itself would charge the user no extra cost for use, and instead WhatsApp would be paid a commission by the financial institutions (banks, mobile money platforms) on the service instead. It almost sounds perfect. But there would likely be caveats such as our economic situation in the country making it hard to keep transaction limits as inflation continues to be a mainstay and issues like the RBZ’s measures to reign in the forex black market would likely cause hostility with an international conglomerate like Facebook. This definitely makes all of us raise an eyebrow, as of course many of us could see the convenience advantages of this system from the convenience of having WhatsApp be your center of mobile payments , to the potential of this even becoming a simple , less bureaucratic way for international funds transfers as well , which something Facebook has been trying to do with Libra as well, it’s attempts at a cryptocurrency of sorts.
However just like Libra drew all the wrong kinds of attention from international financial committees, WhatsApp Pay would likely draw the ire of many financial government officials and regulators here in Zim. Money is always a tricky subject to handle, and chances are the same bureaucracy this system would aim to remove for users is the same kind it would have to overcome to even be used here. The government would likely want it’s cut, and considering their history with international firms, that might not go so well. And this would be considering that local companies and banks even want to work with Facebook on this. After all Econet’s been trying to make their own super app with mobile wallet functionality in Sasai, and all the other companies likely wouldn’t want to pay Facebook any of their money, let alone even have the initiative to invite them in. It’s why even Samsung Pay, the one tech company-owned payment method I would like to have as it removes the need for bank cards, isn’t even available here yet it would also be perfect for the Zimbabwean market. Hence it would seem like a pipe dream for WhatsApp pay to make it here at the moment, especially in this financial climate.
Hence, to answer our own question, should we want WhatsApp pay within our borders? I think we should, so long as we don’t mind Facebook playing a part in our economy and potentially having more financial data about Zimbabwe that the RBZ could ever hope for (that’s not a good thing). But we likely won’t have it because of where our country is right now, and that’s the sad answer that we’ve heard all too often as of late, but remains to be true. Hopefully it changes, and if it doesn’t, can we at least get Samsung Pay?