EcoCash, OneMoney and Telecash must now pay interest on daily balances held by their customers at a rate equivalent to 50 percent of the prevailing yield on Treasury Bills, which these days is between 13 percent and 15 percent a year or around 0,02 percent a day.
The new rules were gazetted yesterday by Finance and Economic Development Minister Prof Mthuli Ncube using his powers under the Banking Act and the three mobile transfer services have to credit the total interest on daily balances at the end of each month.
For many this will not come to that much.
But someone with $100 in their phone for a day can expect 2c at the end of the month, and if they average $100 a day for the whole month they can expect around 60c.
But it will help offset the modest charges the three charge for making payments.
Under the Banking (Savings Interest Rates) Regulations, 2020 you can do better if you lock your money in for 30 days to six months. You then get 75 percent of the Treasury Bill yield. And locking your money in for more than six months gets you 90 percent.
But almost all the money held by the three mobile concerns, in their trust accounts with commercial banks, is designed to be instant cash so those keeping a few dollars in their phone just get the lower rate.
The different rates are normal in banking practice since a banker or quasi-banker has to keep more money on hand for demand deposits although, from experience knows what proportion can be safely invested in assets that are easy to liquidate.
A higher percentage of money that depositors are prepared to tie up for longer fixed periods can be invested, so the depositors can be given a better deal.
While commercial banks do have depositors with extra cash that they are ready to lock up for a decent return, mobile money is generally used to pay bills and make quick payments and has never been seen as an investment vehicle by most.
It has largely replaced actual cash in wallets, and originally was a way of sending people a few dollars instantly, rather than as a way of holding large sums.
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