O’Mari: 3 fintech lessons from an old war horse to the new generation

Not every founder has the luxury of an almost century-old business with a diversified portfolio as a launch pad. Moreover, a litany of industry-agnostic partnerships and shareholdings ensuring whatever is dreamed up has more than a fighting chance. This is what O’Mari essentially is and we know at this junction, you are probably wondering what…


Old Mutual, O'mari

Not every founder has the luxury of an almost century-old business with a diversified portfolio as a launch pad. Moreover, a litany of industry-agnostic partnerships and shareholdings ensuring whatever is dreamed up has more than a fighting chance. This is what O’Mari essentially is and we know at this junction, you are probably wondering what this has to do with every aspiring founder in their bedroom as we speak dreaming to be the next big thing in Fintech.

The answer to that starts with how you are designing a product to suit a market. If you are going to be in fintech in Zimbabwe or Southern Africa for that matter, you are starting behind the eight ball, despite the reports saying that Africa’s digital payments space is projected to grow by 152% between 2020 – 2025. Most of those projections are predicated on the sheer amount of funding for fintech startups that we have seen over the years, particularly in the big four markets.

The truth of the matter (or as close as anyone can get to an absolute) is that growth is optimistic at best. As it stands, reports vary but according to McKinsey, less than 10% of African transactions are digital. A harrowingly small proportion of physical money that’s exchanging hands day by day.

How bad the state of digital money is something we covered when we looked at the cash moving through remittance service providers across the Zimbabwe – South Africa Corridor.

MUST READ: The cash cow that is the SA to Zim remittance corridor

It’s worth noting that remittances aren’t necessarily an exchange of money electronically, the system is rather an analogue one in comparison to what fintech is supposed to be or can be.

Casting dark clouds but there are silver linings

It might seem like we are pissing on Old Mutual’s O’mari parade but they did some really interesting things that are on song if you want to give your fintech a chance beyond a glitzy launch with free booze and finger food for shareholders and the press.

The first and clear sign of the understanding of an industry that Old Mutual showed when they rolled out O’Mari was that they knew they had to have their ducks in a row when it came to the barest minimum market expectations of what the Zimbabwean market is looking for.

1. Integrations and Interoperability

The ultimate goal of a habit-forming product is to solve the user’s pain by creating an association so that the user identifies the company’s product or service as a source of relief” – Nir Eyal (Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products)

If you are going to build anything in digital financial services, make sure that it’s not just a wallet that can transact with another from the same company. O’Mari came out of the box with ZIPIT (EFT for those across the SADC region), more than that you can already pay for a number of services that the competition already has.

Also READ: O’Mari: Is Old Mutual Zim coming for EcoCash?

To sway a cash economy like the one in Zimbabwe, you have to be at least playing at par with what’s already there to convince the masses to go digital as well as soothing ease of transacting digitally (charges and all).

This is something that has been lacking from recent financial services offerings in the teapot-shaped country. The most notable one that took the country by storm was ZIMBOCASH, which was as far afield from anything already on the market as it was “crypto” and all, to complete the simplest and most common transactions like buying airtime or electricity meant going analogue and using other financial services to make the value of ZASH meaningful for day to day transactions.

While there were early adopters of ZIMBOCASH, traction fell by the wayside on one hand due to the KYC mess they found themselves in but more than most, and on the other hand, it looked more and more like a hobbyist and market speculators toy than anything would appeal to wider adoption.

It is imperative that anything in the digital financial service space builds itself with regard to the nature of its market even it if seems like attacking low-hanging fruit. InnBucks is an excellent example of what can be done without having to reinvent the wheel.

2. Build an ecosystem for pity’s sake

Let us cultivate our garden.” – Voltaire (Candide)

Value Proposition is a term that is bandied about but if we are to be frank, it’s not as simple as giving someone a reason to use something. As true as what the previous is without dabbling in the philosophic, there are a number of converging problems that need solving in the financial services space.

To properly caption this, we need to look at EcoCash. If we are being honest, Old Mutual’s O’Mari looked over EcoCash’s shoulder and copied its work. The one thing EcoCash understood, be it intentionally or by accident, is that you need to create a platform that addresses a number of needs beyond just financial inclusion as well as understanding that those needs will evolve.

Now, how successful EcoCash has been in doing so is up to you to make a conclusion. But what we know of the behemoth it has built, ire from the public and all, is that you have to create a space where there is automation and commonality. What we mean by this is that you have to have a constellation of products and services around a fintech product that moves the needle for the average Zimbabwean to be wooed to depositing money instead of stacking it under their mattress.

O’Mari’s answer to EcoSure and the likes are its products called SchoolCare, HealthCare and FoodCare. As poorly named as they are, we can all agree a multimillion-dollar corporation can do better, they show that Old Mutual is looking at what is happening on the market and in its own insurance business to tailor products that feed into its vast portfolio.

For a nominal fee of US$0.90 a month parents that sign up for the O’mari SchoolCare will ensure that their children’s school fees are covered for up to 5 years in the event that they pass away up to US$2,000. And it’s much the same for HealthCare and FoodCare, with the latter having one’s family receiving groceries in the event the principal holder dies.

All these things might appear as though Old Mutual is repackaging its insurance product into segments that most Zimbabweans can understand. But, we believe that Old Mutual might be, in its own way, trying to solve the value preservation issue that has plagued Zimbabwe.

What this means, we believe, is that they are bringing clarity to benefits that most Zimbabweans couldn’t possibly save for given the nature of the country’s economy.

In short, it is a savings account that fulfils one purpose, if the holder doesn’t go for the full suite. Who else is giving such a direct product aside from the ambiguous insurance policies that purport to do so but then have so much fine print that beneficiaries might not receive sufficient support when the unthinkable happens?

3. Have no illusions, there is pain ahead

Men are never convinced of your reasons, of your sincerity, of the seriousness of your sufferings, except by your death. So long as you are alive, your case is doubtful; you have a right only to their scepticism.” – Albert Camus (The Fall)

What we expected when O’Mari was officially launched was that the C-Suite would be bullish about its prospects. We, and to our surprise, got the complete opposite. Old Mutual’s team are well aware of the problems that the local market has not just that there is so much cash circulating outside the formal channels and that they have to find a way to get to it. But also, and most of this was through the presence of the various regulators, Zimbabwe is one Statutory Instrument or Directive away from everything changing.

Above all else their sober mood was because they have observed the challenges faced by their competition EcoCash and InnBucks. This is to say that even as big as they are, they aren’t beyond the tremors of regulatory changes and what they have done to the local economy.

You Need to Check Out: EcoCash transaction limits: impact on the National Payments System in numbers

Whether O’Mari works or not is anyone’s guess, and they seem aware of that because the resources that brought the fintech to birth are so substantial they border on overkill. O’Mari is leveraging partnerships with Pick’n’Pay, Metro Peech, CABS and many others for cash pick-up, drop-off, services and benefits disbursements.

Even with all the money in the world, there is much work to be done. We have all seen well-thought-out, well-engineered products and well-funded projects fail.

How well O’Mari does will be down to adaptability and not to mince words, prescience…