Numerous e-banking platforms and digital payment methods have enabled an increase in online transactions and payments in Ethiopia over the past few years, attesting to the observable growth of technological advancements in the banking industry.
Telebirr, developed by ethio telecom, is one of the platforms that has become influential in online payment. Since its launch in 2021, Telebirr has taken the country’s digital payment system by storm. Offering different sets of services in one app and allowing people to pay for different services has made it a preferred option for some, while it has become a burden for others to be directed to only that app.
Recently, an electronic payment platform was chosen to pay for fuel at gas stations. Last week, all gas stations switched to accepting only electronic transactions through Telebirr or the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia’s Nedaj online banking platform.
This new direction chosen by the government has compelled many individuals who had previously avoided using the Telebirr platform to quickly register. Nedaj also debuted in an effort to digitize the fuel market, which has been plagued by illicit trade, and to provide banking services to the public.
Abebech Mekonnen, a 58-year-old recently retired mother of two who worked a 9-to-5 job, was not thrilled with the new requirement that she download and register for the Telebirr service in order to purchase fuel.
Although she drives less frequently than she used to because she no longer drives to work every day, she still drives frequently for errands, visiting relatives, and attending various events.
When the requirement went into effect, she decided to abandon her car and instead use ride-hailing services to reach her destinations. “I didn’t want to bother with the whole process of installation or registration, to be honest. It seemed like too much of a hassle for me. I also thought that the process of paying through an application was going to be difficult because I am not able to understand technology a lot of the time.”
However, when she realized that the amount of money spent on ride-hailing services was excessive and when she learned that the Telebirr app was not as difficult as she had imagined, she gave in and signed up for the service.
“I admit that the process is much easier than I anticipated because all you have to do is give your phone number and write your code, but I still wish that the option to pay in cash was available because that was easier for me,” she explained.
Agents have been stationed at gas stations to guide and explain the system to customers who, like Abebech, are concerned that the technology will be too complicated or unnecessary.
For example, Eyob Girmaw, an employee at a private media company, claims he had no intention of downloading and utilizing the application. However, as time passed and the app’s use grew and was required by the rule, it became inevitable, he says.
“Initially, I attempted to download the app and complete the registration on my own, but I had difficulty navigating the various required inputs. So I just walked to the nearest gas station and gave my phone to a Telebirr agent, who sorted everything out,” Eyob said.
He claims the agent even deposited money after the account was created to demonstrate its ease of use.
However, there are some customers who have no trouble understanding the technology but disapprove of not having the option to pay with cash if they so choose.
Surafel Tewelde, a 27-year-old young man who works in the private sector and frequently drives, found it much easier to pay for fuel in cash as opposed to using the Telebirr service because the system frequently failed while he was making a payment.
“I was told that I put in the wrong code even though I was correct, and, although I only did so once, I was locked out of the application and had to go to the trouble of going to an ethio telecom center to have it unlocked again,” he said. “I agree that, when it is working, it is fast, but it’s not fair that the option of paying by cash is not available because it was easier for me,” he added.
Another customer, Henok Getu, a 29-year-old driver for Ride and Feres, has a different opinion.
He believes that payment through Telebirr is significantly simpler. The only issue he has with his Telebirr account is the process for depositing funds. To pay for fuel, he must first deposit the cash into his bank account and then transfer it to his Telebirr account.
Because Henok provides ride-hailing services to the city’s residents all day, he must refill his gas tank multiple times. And since his customers pay him in cash, it is cumbersome to deposit the funds on a regular basis.
“It is exhausting to have to deposit the money I am paid every time,” he said. But he does see a positive outcome coming out of this. “It also opens up the option of getting online payments from customers, which will make things so much easier.”
Despite receiving daily complaints from customers about system failures and slow bank transfers, Tatek Dejene, who works at a gas station and has witnessed the implementation of the rule, says he has seen the benefits of using online payment methods.
The process, however, seems to have become much simpler as people accept it with the passage of time.
“I believe when the dust settles and the majority understands the process sufficiently, it will run much smoother than it is now,” Tatek said.