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The Big Bank Theory: South Africa’s Banks Of The Future



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African Bank’s CEO Basani Maluleke. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Phoenix from the ashes   

African Bank’s CEO Basani Maluleke is overseeing the rebirth of a bank that went into administration in 2014.

The revival will allow the bank to start conversations on an exit strategy with its shareholders, the South African Reserve Bank, the Government Employees Pension Fund and six of South Africa’s biggest lenders.

Under Maluleke’s leadership, African Bank is venturing into digital banking. In May, it launched its very first transactional product MyWORLD, offering “the cheapest transactional banking fees in South Africa’s market”. 

MyWORLD operates across African Bank’s Omni-channel digital infrastructure. The bank partnered with Direct Transact, a provider of electronic banking and independent payment processing products, and ebankIT, a Portuguese company that develops Omnichannel digital banking platforms.

The bank took this route, explains the self-aware leader, as it wants “to be able to tap into fintechs and into people who do one thing really well, because there’s no way that we can do everything really well, so we identified the bank in Portugal, as a fintech that’s doing really great work around customer interfaces and as a result, they are a really strong partner of ours and assisting us with the app as well as our online channels”.

Omni will provide the bank’s customers with convenience and seamlessness, reckons Maluleke.

“We know for a fact that one of the things that irritate customers is when you go to a bank and they ask you for the same information over and over. You are giving them your KYC [know your customer] documents five times in three years and the key becomes how do you make sure that irrespective of which channel you engage with us on, you are able to continue seamlessly from one to the end without having to give exactly the same information over and over?”

Maluleke believes the product will be a winner because African Bank doesn’t have the “same legacy issues of the larger banks, we are not protecting massive cost infrastructure that the other banks have and I think it puts us in a very, very good position to be successful. We’re all playing a very similar game and we are all chasing very similar customers, the key to success is going to be who’s going to be able to deliver the best value proposition and right now we think we definitely are well-positioned to do that”. With the change, African Bank hopes to lock in its existing customer base, who predominately earn between $300 and $1,400 and target people on the higher end of the spectrum.

Where does Maluleke see banking in the next five years?

The entrepreneur envisions that banks will move out of their traditional offerings, using data to decide what those should be.

She elaborates: “Investec talks a lot about its travel program because it knows that its customers want more travel but we know that our customers are much more focused on… how do you help me to access education in ways that make sense to me? So, for us it is about understanding what your customers need and being able to provide it to them in a way that is seamless and affordable.”

She imagines that ChatBanking will grow, “everybody wants to be able to bank on WhatsApp or on social media”.

The social-justice advocate also sees the rise of invisible banking.

“You want to be able to wake up and not really have to bank, so you want to be able to wake up and talk to your virtual assistant, say Siri, Alexa or whoever else comes up over the course of the next five years… Banking must come to you as opposed to you having to go to it, that’s where this idea is going. We were talking about the idea of the invisible bank that banking kind of happens between everything else and it’s the glue that holds everything that you do together without you having to deliberately go and log into this thing and move on…”

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