Innovation at the heart of S.Africa's banking space - CNBC Africa

Innovation at the heart of S.Africa's banking space

Technology

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Banking and technology. PHOTO: Getty Images

“It’s largely about what customers expect from the banks, where the industry takes us. [it’s about] also keeping an eye on technology and trends, and keeping a close look at where we should be going with banking,” Sahil Mungar, head of sales and marketing at First National Bank Mobile and Connect, told CNBC Africa.

“Largely you do it to cater for as many customers as you can, and that’s innovation: not leaving out anybody and keeping in touch with what your customers expect now and in future.”

First National Bank was the first innovator in the country’s banking space in terms of its mobile banking app, which was introduced in July 2011. According to Mungar, the introduction was at a time where smartphone penetration was significantly low in South Africa.

In April 2013, they were the first bank to also launch a banking tablet app for Apple, Andriod, Windows and Blackberry phones.

(WATCH VIDEO: Kenya and S.Africa lead the way in cashless banking)

Providing a variety of access points and options for the customer is essential to the ever-changing world, but can at the same time go wrong.

Magnus Taljaard, head of mobile at Standard Bank, explained that an anticipated trend could sometimes have the opposite effect of its original intention.

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“The absolute key thing is to stay as close as possible to your customers. The fundamental shift that we’re seeing is that customers’ expectations, preferences, their behaviour have changed, so the digitisation of society has continued,” said Taljaard.  

“We live in a world today where customers are expecting that the tools around them need to be embedded in their lived digitally, and that’s what we need to understand. The key thing is to make sure we have an ongoing dialogue with customers, so we’ve set up a customer experience lab where you can bring customers in, test new concepts with them and respond to that.”

(READ MORE: S.Africa's banks investing in 'information' technology)

Taljaard however added that there’s always the risk of attempting innovation for the sake of it, and failing to focus on the customer’s changing needs.

The African continent is nonetheless a hub of creative mobile banking innovations, with their success attributed to the fact that the applications and options are tailor-made to customers of all economic backgrounds.

“The African space is changing: there are cheaper phones, various types of smartphones, and more and more users are starting to use data-based services.”

“If you take into account the African space, there’s a rush to get into Africa across all types of industries. Branches and physical infrastructure becomes a challenge and then you look at: what does everybody have that you can utilise to access people? That’s cell phones and mobile technology. So technology itself is now the entry point from business to the consumer.”

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