by Gugu Lourie
Instead of waiting to see a cashier at a glass booth, Absa customers at selected branches will be greeted at the door by staff armed with iPads and other devices, who will answer questions and help them perform banking operations that were previously confined to teller-based services.
The new service is being piloted in seventeen of the bank’s branches across Gauteng including the newly opened Verdi Centre branch in Northcliff, Johannesburg as well as Irene branch in Pretoria.
The bank said the iPad offering brings four stand-alone insurance products that make legal, life and funeral cover accessible to a higher number of South Africans.
It also claim that the iPad offering provides for facilities in Absa branches that are consistent with a service quality that is independent of the branch’s power and fixed telephone line systems.
“The use of iPads in branch also allows us to carry out traditional branch transactions including the switching of customers’ debit orders, transactional and savings account openings and personal loan approvals of between R8 000 and R150 000 for qualifying Absa customers in minutes,” says Banie Claasen, managing executive of Absa in Gauteng South.
South African banks are determined to push customers online as a cheaper alternative to serving clients in expensive branches. They are spending millions on developing and enticing their customers to use mobile banking apps and one bank even move to providing cellphone services.
It is not an accident that the technology-focused banking outlet is gaining a good reputation for providing customer intimacy via its convenient digital banking. South Africa’s oldest bank First National Bank (FNB) has also developed a new division providing mobile phone servives known as FNB Connect.
In 2013, FNB also introduced an innovative banking outlet dotFNB that was created by to fuse the bank’s digital banking and retail experience.
The dotFNB provides an ultra-modern store type environment and sets the trend for future banking.
It operates as a virtual branch that leverages converged technologies to deliver digital products and services, video conferencing with financial experts for complex solutions. These outlets also boast a large-scale interactive Microsoft surface – which was the first of its kind in the country. It makes banking information virtually available at the customer’s fingertips.
Customers through the interactive surface can view and learn about FNB’s product offerings, the surface contains savings and eBucks calculators as well as share swarm. The outlet is also paperless and provides digital advertising.
The dotFNB also operate as a smart way of migrating customers using traditional banking onto virtual banking, while at the same time providing them with the means to do so. In the store, smart device pods showcase the latest tablets and smartphones, and accessory stands provide a range of options for all devices in store.
Despite the introduction of innovative banking such as relying on mobile banking apps, telephone banking and virtual branches, the local branch is not disappearing.
Absa’s announcement of arming its staff members with iPads comes at the end of a two year period during which the bank has carried out over 340 refurbishments and branch openings that began at Johannesburg’s upmarket Hyde Park Corner shopping centre.
Absa said that both Verdi Centre and Irene branches were installed with generators to alleviate the immediate impact of load-shedding, while both branches also have extended operating hours to close on weekdays (latest 17:30) and include Saturdays.
“We believe that this is a timely solution as load-shedding is increasingly affecting consumers, and the generators and iPads we have secured will go a long way towards helping our customers prosper,” says Oscar Siziba, managing executive of Absa’s Northern Region (a combination of Pretoria, Mpumalanga and Limpopo).
Siziba adds that the move to extend trading hours in these particular branches was an easy decision for the bank as this was a clear way in which to adapt to customer’s changing banking behaviour and accommodate more availability of branch service hours.
Global research firm Juniper Research forecasts 1 billion people will access their bank accounts via mobile devices by the end of this year.
The firm suggests that banks should start directing their efforts toward wearable devices such as smartwatches, which are expected to reach 100 million banking sessions in five years.
While the number of mobile banking sessions via wearable devices is expected to grow tenfold by 2020, Juniper predicts the number of mobile banking users will double to 2 billion.