Econet (EcoRob) – an example of the arrogance of an oligopoly

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By Lovemore Fuyane

I recently stumbled upon a debate on social media about the service provided by the Econet Group (EcoRob, as I now call them), particularly when it comes to data costs. For most people that have experienced other countries, it’s no secret that Econet currently charges exorbitant fees for data, EcoCash the works. In fact, local EcoCash charges are in the same ball park as the 2% tax on international remittances recently announced by the minister of finance and economic development.

Many citizens were up in arms when that tax was announced and yet, unbeknown to them, they have lived with just as ugly an extortionate system in Econet for the longest time. Add onto that numerous complaints about the poor level of customer service the company has gained notoriety for.

What I did not know is that this culture is, in fact, pervasive across the entire group and not just limited to their best-known brand, the mobile telephony business. A recent experience with Steward Bank, their banking arm, left me utterly astounded. To cut a long story short, I recently tried to remit $60 to a Zimbabwe-based relative who holds an account with the bank and the purpose of this remittance was to cover urgent medical expenses. My relative received notification about a day or so later that she had received $30 into her account upon which she immediately informed me with great concern.

I then made contact with the bank’s CEO whom I have met once before but linked to on social media on the 19th of July 2018. I made direct contact with him furnishing details of the transaction and asking him to assist me in resolving this urgent matter.

Instead of responding to me acknowledging receipt or referring me to a named customer service person who could assist, Dr Lance Mambondiani – the CEO – completely ignored me, to this day the 14th of November. In fact, he only responded very reluctantly to me via an email on the 14th of November after I had gone two levels above him.

As a matter of fact, even this $30 my relative got notification of having received has still not reflected in her account or been handed over to her. On the 13th of November I again reached out to Dr Lance, this time publicly via social media and his reaction was to not only to persist with ignoring me but blocking me altogether.

The later follow up message to him was posted as a comment on a post he had put out celebrating the super profits the bank has made thus far this financial year. Clearly, the story of profits mattered far more than some individual bothersome client issue.

The purpose of me narrating this personal story is not just to air my grievance; it is really intended to highlight a problem we may just be facing as a country now that we have allowed the much celebrated Strive Masiyiwa empire to morph into an arrogant oligopolistic monolith.

Indeed, the group does try to do much corporate social investment in the country. I am afraid, Mr Masiyiwa’s long absence from the ground has led to his business providing such shoddy services even he wouldn’t recognize relative to where he resides abroad. The group is heading in the exact opposite direction to wherever he is in terms of customer service. 

This article is also an appeal to the relevant regulators POTRAZ to come up with measures to enable other players to break up this monopoly/oligopoly. If existing competitors such as Telecel and TelOne do not possess the capacity to take Econet on, surely Zimbabwe ought to open up for MTN and Vodafone’s business.

This oligopoly is not only arrogant but clearly further impoverishing the ordinary citizen and the only thing that can correct such an anomaly is competition. As much as many of us Zimbabweans love Mr Masiyiwa, we must render the industry much more competitive not just for the good of ordinary citizens but in all likelihood Mr Masiyiwa’s own business as well.

One could approach the Consumer Council but it’s common cause that with a $60 complaint it’s probably not worth the cost and time to go that route. The monopoly MUST be broken up!!

Lovemore Fuyane is a Zimbabwean and writes from East Africa.