On-boarding at Zoona

By Jitske Cnossen

Accion’s Ambassadors program offers me the opportunity to work for a little over two months at Zoona. As already explained by former Ambassadors Nile and Kristy, Zoona is a Zambian company providing financial services through mobile phone technology and their extensive network of over 1000 agents. They offer customers the ability to send and receive (international) money on a trusted platform instead of having to rely on moving cash physically between places, which is both inefficient and unsafe. On the other hand, they enable emerging entrepreneurs to earn an income and serve their communities as Zoona Agents. Zoona is currently active in Malawi and Zambia, but expected to expand into other countries soon as well.

Zoona’s efficiency and professionalism was demonstrated in the speed at which I was on-boarded at the company. After arriving in the late afternoon at Lusaka airport Zoona’s team brought me straight to the office, introduced me to the whole team, gave me a company phone, and presented me with my day-to-day program for the coming period. Just a few hours after arriving, I was up and running, which I must say is quite impressive!

The next day this rhythm continued with another introduction at the Head Office in the morning, followed by some actual practice at their Center of Learning. This allowed me to get a full overview of their IT platform that agents and tellers use.

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By talking to staff members of Zoona, I noticed that they truly live through their company’s values – which center around being Real and Committed to customers.  I found employees and agents to be passionate people wanting to make a difference in the lives of their clients. They are realizing that Zoona’s services have actual impact on their customers, and act accordingly. By going daily into the field, they give the necessary support to their agents on the ground, which enables them to improve their overall performance.

Although I am just learning about the non-traditional financial service providers like Zoona, I can already see their importance especially in the Zambian context. With around 65% of the population having no access to formal banking services, these so called fintech companies (operating at the intersection of financial systems and technology) offer a very important alternative to excluded groups. Fact is that even people without a formal bank account can use Zoona’s services. How can we explain the large uptake of these alternative channels?

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To start, many people in Zambia are still illiterate and unable to use formal bank account openings procedures. In addition, the collateral and high banking fees form barriers to enter and people tend to feel intimidated by the strict procedures at banks. Lastly, a general lack of trust in the formal banking sector – often for understandable reasons like a history of failing banks or absence of depositor’s protection schemes – can push individuals to different channels. All in all, and I am sure my list is not exclusive, enough reasons for people to look for alternative financial service providers.

In summary, just one week down the line I am eager to learn more about Zoona and look forward to support them to further improve systems, controls and operations of their larger key accounts Cactus and PostDotNet.

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