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How a mobile phone vendor became Zimbabwe's fastest-growing bank

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Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A street vendor in Harare, Zimbabwe, waits for customers to buy his cigarettes and cell-phone cards. EcoCash, a money-transfer service that uses mobile phones, may become the biggest banker in the country, where 80 percent of the people don't have a traditional bank account.

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Money is whizzing through the airwaves and cell towers of Zimbabwe, as a mobile cash-transfer system is on track to become the country’s biggest bank.

EcoCash, a mobile money-transfer service operated by telecommunications company EcoNet Wireless Zimbabwe, has reached a million subscribers in under six months since its launch, according to Mobile Money Africa. EcoCash enables money transfers across all networks between mobile users, a rapidly expanding sector of the Zimbabwean population.

And in a country where 80 percent of residents do not have access to mainstream bank accounts, a service that requires nothing but a mobile phone is a popular and more convenient alternative. Mobile phone users now make up 77 percent of the population, compared to just 6 percent in 2006, reports Mobile Money for the Unbanked. And EcoNet Wireless, EcoCash’s parent company, has that market cornered in Zimbabwe, with 6.5 million customers, which represents 70 percent of the market share of cell phone users, according to Mobile Money Africa.

EcoCash, a mobile money-transfer service, has reached a million subscribers. “There is a lot of money to be made by investing in the poor,” says Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

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