Absa buys an online life insurer

  Absa, one of SA’s big four banks, is in a process of buying a controlling stake in an online life insurance distribution platform, Instant Life, for an undisclosed amount. By Gugu Lourie

The transaction will give Absa a 75% stake in Instant Life, online life insurance distribution platform offering life, disability and critical illness cover to qualifying customers. The online insurer was established in 2008 to address a growing market for pure-risk life insurance sold online. The deal is subject to regulatory approvals (including approval from the South African Reserve Bank).
“The acquisition of Instant Life will provide Absa with a scalable platform to grow our Bancassurance business as we will now be able to deliver automated and efficient life insurance through all our customer accessed distribution channels,” says Jannie Venter, MD for Absa Life.   “By leveraging Instant Life’s existing digital platform, customers will have access to a self-service function that will allow them to acquire insurance and easily update and manage their policies online” adds Venter.
The acquisition also complements Absa’s recent launch of the first predictive underwriting solution in Africa, and one of the first globally. “Instant Life has developed a tele-underwriting methodology that caters for 99% of lives to be underwritten online or through a telephonic interview that is backed up by an interactive underwriting decision tree” says Venter. Absa’s acquisition of Instant Life follows the procurement of a controlling interest in First Assurance in Kenya in June.
“We are confident that the Absa and Barclays culture and brand fits well with what has driven Instant Life for the past eight years across our business model and we foresee it increasing both our customer base and our offering through significant opportunities going forward,” says Bryan McLachlan, CEO of Instant Life.

FNB Connect awarded most innovative MVNO

  FNB was recently recognised for being the “Most Innovative MVNO” in the Telecoms.com Awards that conferred in London. By Staff Writer

“We are extremely proud of this achievement, and it is a testament to our culture of innovation and commitment to providing the best products and services to our customers,” say Shadrack Palmer, Chief Commercial Officer of FNB Connect. In June 2015 FNB became the first bank in South Africa to launch a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). The take up of the service has been nothing short of extraordinary and at the beginning of November, FNB announced that it had over 100 000 active SIMs.   In addition to this, FNB picked up another two notable awards in the AfricaCom awards ceremony convened in Cape Town also in November. FNB were winners in the “Excellence in Customer Experience Management” and “Most Innovative Service” categories for the FNB Connect offering.
“It’s really humbling to see the global recognition we are receiving in less than 6 months of launch,” says Palmer.
Customers are regularly logging onto Online Banking, FNB APP and Cell phone Banking to self manage their SIMs just like they manage their bank accounts. SIM management functions include changing limits, block and unblocking SIMs, ordering replacement SIMs doing a SIM Swap and of course managing their spend. This also helps customers save time as they can avoid calling into the call centres and they can execute these functions by a few clicks on Online Banking, the Banking App or Cell phone Banking. In terms of product and features, the Flexi product and auto recharge are very popular with customers.
“The FNB Connect Flexi package is an innovative product in the market that can be changed monthly according to each individual’s needs using sliders to choose your data, voice and SMS, “adds Palmer.
Another cool feature on the FNB Connect Prepaid offering is the Auto Top-Up function that allows customers to automatically top up their airtime or data when their balance reaches a certain limit. This means that customers will never run out of airtime or be out of bundle when it comes to data.
“We are very excited with the growth of FNB Connect and very pleased that customers are seeing the value in the transparency, control, flexibility and rewards associated with the product,” says Palmer.

Phone your friends for free via ChiChi

IT entrepreneur Patrick Palmi is encouraging South Africans to make a free calls on their mobile phones in exchange for listening to an advertisement from a consumer brand. By Gugu Lourie

The owner of justpalm.com has created a platform called Chichi Sponsored Call Marketing that enables brands to give away instant airtime for free in exchange for listening to a promotion. The platform will help brands to reach new people. The airtime giveaways may also assist brands to build loyalty with customers, who cannot afford airtime and relies on free WhatsApp calls and SMS to communicate with friends and loved ones. Consumer brands in South Africa spend millions of rands every year on billboard, TV, radio and print advertising. But, as everyone knows, it’s getting more and more difficult (and expensive) to capture and hold people’s attention. And when you struggle to measure awareness and sentiment, justifying advertising spend can become a nightmare. South African mobile marketing agency justpalm.com, has found an innovative new way for big brands to connect with low-income consumers – by using mobile marketing to give them something of value in exchange for listening to a promotion.
“It’s called ChiChi Sponsored Call Marketing,” explains Patrick Palmi, CEO of justpalm.com, “and the basic idea is that, through our platform, big brands can help low-income consumers by giving them free cellphone talk time. The consumer can call a friend or family member for free – all the brand asks for in exchange is that, before the call connects the caller, and whoever is on the other end of the line, listen to a 10 to 15 second message”.
The company has recently ran a campaign where 750,000 calls were connected in a week – that’s 1.5 million consumers (two people per call connected) who heard the brand’s promotion in one week. “It was amazing,” says Palmi. Watch video below:   Palmi says Sponsored Call Marketing can be used for so much more than to drive sales, with brands using it to promote in-store product trials, collect data, and even as a reward for loyal customers.
“It’s proved to be extremely popular as a reward scheme – especially in countries like South Africa, where free talk time is highly valuable to many consumers. “
Whats more refreshing is that ChiChi platform enables users who want to make a free call to SMS the USSD code and then get free airtime to chat with loved ones after listening to a brand promo. The aim for these kinds of sponsored call campaigns is to connect a particular brand with consumers in an innovative way that get people talking about that brand – telling their friends and family about the free call giveaway they received from the brand. Justpalm.com claims that sponsored calls work because they give consumers something they value – time to talk to friends and family – rather than simply bombarding them with plain advertising information.
“And in a region where most consumers are on prepaid cell phones, it’s easy to see why this approach is so effective in Africa. Add the fact that sponsored call marketing is so versatile, cost-effective and measurable – and you’ve got a great recipe for consumer campaign success. “If we can achieve all this by giving both sides an advantage, then we’re making advertising better.”
Who is justpalm.com?   Justpalm.com was founded in 2009 after being inspired by the groundbreaking “Please Call Me” concept. It was started as company to provide student residence at the University of Johannesburg with prepaid Wi-Fi Hotspots Access and Wi-Fi Hotspots Advertising. The ChiChi Sponsored Call platform was launched in 2014 as a free calling service just like Viber, Tango, WhatsAp, WeChat but designed for emerging markets low-end feature phones and accessible through USSD, SMS and the web.
“We believe we can make a difference in our customers’ marketing strategies by leveraging off the large mobile phone penetration in emerging markets to connect and engage with consumers,” said Palmi.

End of a Bank Teller: Absa intro iPads

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.    

Nigerian President to decide MTN’s fate

  Africa’s largest mobile phone operator MTN Group’s fate lies in the hands of the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who will take the necessary decision at the appropriate time in the best interest of the country, according to Africa’s biggest economy’s Minister of Communications Adebayo Shittu. By Staff Writer

“The issue is now before Mr President. He will take the necessary decision at the appropriate time. And the President would do what is best for the public interest,“ Shittu told the Nigerian Vanguard newspaper. “The good thing is that MTN did not contest the fact that they had violated the regulations and guidelines. They never contested it. They admitted they were at fault. They apologized for their role in the saga and they made a commitment that what happened will never happen again. And of course, they made a plea for review of the payment terms,” he said. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) issued a R74.8bn fine to MTN last month for failing to disconnect five million unregistered SIM cards in a timely manner. The NCC then set a deadline of November 16 for MTN to pay the fine but was extended until negotiations were completed. Last month, MTN Nigeria recorded a marginal decline in its subscriber base to 62,5 million subscribers, due to the disconnection of 5,1 million subscribers at the end of August 2015 in line with industry-wide regulatory registration requirements. To date, 3,4 million of these subscribers have been reconnected.
“I don’t think there is any conflicting position on where government stands on the MTN issue. Recall that there were violations which were established against MTN. The violations were to the tune of five million subscribers. There are many countries where subscribers, in the entire country, are not up to half of the five million. In the case of Nigeria, we had more than five million violations,” Shittu told Vanguard.
“However, both the government and MTN are on the same page that rules have been broken in this instance.”

Safeguard your corporate SIM

For companies who have come to rely on SIM cards for machine-to-machine communication and other enterprise-level solutions, fraud can be crippling. Fortunately, there are several preventative measures decision-makers can take to minimise the risk. By Hein Koen, co-founder of Flickswitch

Any company with a sizeable SIM base has experienced fraud in some way – it is one of those things that often gets hidden in the plethora of bills a company receives. We have seen a few cases each totalling well over a R1-million. To say that SIM fraud can put a small company out of business is not an exaggeration. Abuse categories There are mainly two types of SIM abuse. The first is spend abuse. As the name suggests, this is when too much money is spent on a SIM card. This can either happen as a result of a device becoming faulty or a person using too much data. Often, this is written off as legitimate spend incurred during the course of business. The second, and more concerning one, is when SIMs are stolen or compromised. These SIMs, typically found in terminals or point-of-sale devices, are then used for WASP-type services like buying airtime and data using the corporate account. And with syndicates using sophisticated methods to do this, the financial implications on a business can quickly become serious. So what are some of the steps one can take to help combat SIM card fraud in the organisation?   Check your SIM
FNB Connect Sim Card
  As a first step, the business needs to ensure that the correct SIM is in a device. In other words, the SIM has to be risk managed. Ideally, companies should not use open-ended post-paid SIMs but opt to go the prepaid route. This massively reduces the potential for bill shock. With prepaid SIMs, companies can manage their costs in real-time. After all, a prepaid SIM can only use the amount of airtime or data loaded on to it. This provides decision-makers with a much more efficient way of managing the associated costs. There is also no way that out of bundle rates, especially when it comes to mobile data, escalate out of control. Use management tools Companies should also evaluate whether they have the tools in place to manage their SIM cards effectively. There are online tools available to take the hassle out of managing prepaid SIMs and devices in real time. However, working with a trusted service provider who has the expertise and know-how to do it means an organisation can focus on meeting its core business deliverables. Keep devices locked Another very useful measure to take is for decision-makers to lock down their devices in the field. There is software that can do this, either on a firmware or device level. With a mobile workforce using tablets and smartphones, such software can be used to minimise risk even further. One of the best things about going the prepaid route is that businesses need not worry about performing SIM swaps when devices are lost. It is just a case of inserting a new prepaid SIM into the device as the SIM is not linked to a specific account. At the end of the day, it can cost a lot of money when falling prey to SIM fraud and abuse. By implementing some of these proactive measures, companies can mitigate some risks and monthly bill shocks.

Cell C launches LTE in the Western Cape

Cell C is pleased to announce that 1 December brings the commercial launch of its LTE service to customers in the Western Cape, in time for the festive season. By Staff Writer

“I am exceptionally proud of the team for getting the Western Cape up and running so quickly. The first phase of 280 sites across the Western Cape is now complete and ready for customers to enjoy,” says Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos.
Jose Dos Santos, Cell C's CEO
Jose Dos Santos, Cell C’s CEO
Western Cape LTE customers will also be treated to the same launch offer that those in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal received. The first 1000 customers to visit the Cell C Walk in Customer Care Centre in Tygervalley will be able to purchase a 100GB of data, valid for 3 months, for R100. This offer is a one-day only special and will be available on 1 December to the first 1000 customers. “The offer was such a success in Gauteng and KZN that we had to make the offer available to those in the Western Cape,” says Dos Santos. The commercial launch of LTE in the Western Cape follows over R2 billion investment in the company’s LTE data network this year. Cell C will invest another R6 billion over the next two years to roll out LTE in other provinces and extend coverage to other parts of Gauteng, KZN and the Western Cape. Cell C has also set aside capital to invest in an additional 1600 fibre links to be rolled out in the new financial year. Backhaul to all the sites that are live on LTE has already been bolstered with upgrades to ensure that they are self-provisioned. “The Western Cape is also in line for a core transmission backbone upgrade to 100Gbps,” says Dos Santos. The LTE launch coincides with Cell C’s network harmonisation project, which is 95% complete, bringing wider coverage and more stability to the network in the region. Already, this project has shown substantial quality benefits to customers. For those customers using 3G, the company has also implemented Dual Carrier in the region, which has had a dramatic positive impact on the 3G quality and speeds customers are experiencing.  

ClickTab exclusively available at Incredible Connection

Ahead of the festive season, Incredible Connection has introduced a new range of tablets – Click – exclusive to the retailer. By Staff Writer

What’s more, the retailer will also be introducing a 3G enabled tablet aimed at children between ages 3 and 10 with a custom software interface that specifically caters to children – the new ClickTab Kids 7.
“As consumers become more reliant on mobile devices for their digital lifestyle and business requirements, the ClickTab range delivers on our promise and commitment to providing consumers with a variety of options to meet their diverse needs – all in an affordable and compact tablet – and we are excited that these will be exclusively available to Incredible Connection,” says Sean Nelson, merchandise executive at Incredible Connection.
Click 8GB 3G Tablet The ClickTab 7” comes with a quad core processor, 1GB RAM and 8GB of on-board storage. Running off Android 5.1, the tablet has a FM radio as well as a front and rear camera and the dual-sim 3G connectivity makes it extremely versatile at home and in the office. The ClickTab 7” also boasts voice calling functionality. ClickTab Kids  This 7” 3G enabled tablet caters specifically for children between the ages of 3 and 10 years. The tablet come pre-loaded with over 25 Apps and age appropriate Games for children with access to an App store with hundreds more. The unit also comes fitted with a durable silicone rubber sleeve built to absorb drops and falls. Most importantly, is the built in parental controls that allow parents to limit the time that children can spend on the tablets, the time of day that play is allowed and even what apps and games they can have access to. Parents can even set up profiles for different children of different ages and manage each child’s profile separately. Click value added accessories will also be available – including a Click branded folio cover available in two colours as well as Click branded screen protectors. The Click 8GB 3G Tablet and ClickTab Kids are now available at Incredible Connection at a Recommended Retail Price of R1 499.00 respectively.

Free Open Source in SA still a pipe dream

From 2003, the South African government has been engaged in an interesting dance with FOSS – free open source software. By Phehello Mofokeng, director of Geko Labs, a Johannesburg-based ERP integration and implementation firm

In 2007, after a range of consultative meetings and other forms of flirtation with industry experts, Chief Information Officers and other members of the public, a formal policy – to the effect that South African government will adopt open source software wherever possible – was officially adopted. The idea behind this policy was that, where possible government should avoid expensive proprietary software licensing and the collusive vendor lock-in practice of commercial software corporations.
The commercial software vendors have created an ecosystem for themselves, where only they benefit – you use their software, technicians must take courses that they accredit. Only certain software packages can work with certain types of computers or machines or server technologies. And they are very expensive. Free open source software comes in to rid users and ailing governments of this problem.
So from 2007 onwards, the SA government was supposed to embark on a massive campaign of open source software adoption.
Phehello Mofokeng is a director of Geko Labs, a Johannesburg-based ERP integration and implementation firm
Open source software adoption is not a simple and straightforward choice; it is complex and has far-reaching consequences. There are indications that some of our government departments have adopted open source software at one level or another. As an open source software evangelist and tech entrepreneur with vested interests in its large-scale adoption, I think no one can set trends and blaze trails like government in this area. Our government’s ambiguity in relation to this can be understood even though it is quite frustrating. Government is a large entity and in order to apply one system, one philosophy (because open source is not just software, it is a way of thinking and a way of doing things) and one functional software approach needs a lot of doing, lots of conversation, lots of conversion and lots of change management. Firstly, government needs champions for this course. In fact, any client that moves from one system to another needs a champion, a go-to guy to lead the implementation of this new way of thinking. This champion needs to be a personality who is able to change perceptions and to convince large numbers of government employees, service providers, executive staff and the public that think “they know it all” and who often are resistant to change. This champion must be an evangelist – not only of FOSS – but of change in general. He/She should be willing to discuss the pros and cons – equally – of FOSS, without over-emphasising the benefits. Secondly, there has to be a direct message of change – not of changing just software – but of changing business mindset, operations, and processes in the said government circles. This change has to be measurable. And I do believe that this change must start small. There is no area of operation where FOSS is as strong as on web technology. Another advantage of web technology FOSS is that it is easy to adopt, it is measurable and it is extremely easy to implement and even the most change-resistant people cannot avoid its clear benefits. This is the reason that for our inaugural GovtMatrix, we chose the web to measure how far the South African government has come to finally implementing its own policy of FOSS adoption and usage.
In our first inaugural GovtMatrix Measure (published in Nov 2015), we analysed government’s web products and services that run open source software and on open source philosophy.
These can be easily measured and quantified. We measured all the governments’ websites to see if they use open source software and standards. The reason for this is that, websites are the easiest products that can run open software and can be implemented on open standards. And the results were staggering. It was clear that government had not lost its interest in FOSS, but the pace of adoption was extremely slow. It was, however, evident that the SA government does not yet consider web as its most important communication tool. If it did, the level of adherence to international best practice and FOSS standards would be much higher than we found.

Retail stores gear up for Black Friday mayhem

Black Friday originated in the US and is the Friday after the American Thanksgiving when retailers sell their merchandise at massive discounts. The term is historically known in the American retail industry as the day on which business began to turn a profit (in the black) after having operated at a loss (in the red) since January. It is also regarded as the official start of the Christmas shopping season. Checkers was the first retailer to bring the US sales day to SA shores in 2014 and has decided to go big on Friday November 27. “In 2014 we served more than one million customers on Black Friday. This year we have even more deals on offer, on everyday products that were carefully selected with our customers’ shopping needs in mind,” said Neil Schreuder, marketing director for Shoprite Checkers.
Despite the customer “mayhem” in 2014, Schreuder at the time said it was exciting for retailers and that the day “exceeded their expectations”.Retail sales in South Africa grew below expectations at 2.7% year-on-year in September and Black Friday comes as a welcome boost to stores willing to capitalise on the popular day.In Nigeria, Africa’s leading economy, Jumia online store is preparing to cash in on the event and has hopes to outshine Alibaba’s “Singles Day” sales record set in China earlier in November. Fatoumata Ba, managing director for Jumia Nigeria said: “Our projections for this Black Friday 2015 are surpassing anything we could have hoped for only a year ago.” According to Ba, the online store is showing statistics never seen before. “The traction we are observing on Jumia for Black Friday is unprecedented, with 100 times more traffic on the website than a year ago at the same time,” he said. – Fin24