Banking giant Absa is at an advanced stage of planning to deploy free public Wi-Fi to all of its approximately 800 branches across South Africa. The bank will also work with parent Barclays to extend the network to its branches across the rest of Africa.
The idea is to encourage customers in its branches to use electronic channels for banking, explains Barclays Africa head of IT for channels and segments Thato Matolong. However, the Wi-Fi will be open to all members of the public for free.
Pilots have already begun in South Africa involving three branches, with additional pilots to follow before year-end in Kenya and Botswana.
Matolong says the bank should have rolled out Wi-Fi to “most branches” in South Africa by the end of the first quarter of 2014. Absa isn’t able to say yet how much the project will cost as final sign-off is still needed.
Rather than outsourcing the project, it’s being managed internally by the Absa and Barclays Africa IT team.
Richard Him Lok, the bank’s head of emerging technologies in Africa, says that idea is that instead of going to a branch counter, a bank employee will provide customers standing in a queue with assistance in using Absa’s electronic mobile banking services.
Lok says Absa is aware of the potential of “abuse” of a public and open Wi-Fi system and is still formulating a policy on access, including whether to limit access to certain websites and services. However, it’s likely the bank will encourage people to use the system to do things such as downloading their e-mail for free when they’re at an Absa branch.
The Wi-Fi system will be isolated from Absa’s internal network for security reasons.
However, a separate Wi-Fi access point will be made available for bank employees as part of the network roll-out. This will provide access to Barclays My Zone, an Android and iPhone application that will provide services typically available through the corporate intranet — news feeds, company policies and procedures, human resources information and so on.
Branch staff will be trained to use the Wi-Fi network and to exploit the bank’s electronic channels in order to help clients. “They have to be happy with using this before looking after customers,” Lok says.
Matolong says one of the main ideas behind the project is making the low end of the market comfortable with electronic channels, helping to get feet out of branches, which are expensive to service.
The bank believes the appeal of free Wi-Fi will be greater elsewhere in Africa, where the Internet is not as pervasive as it is in South Africa. However, Lok admits it will be more challenging to deploy Wi-Fi across the 12 markets outside South African where it has retail operations. Backhaul links are often in short supply or non-existent, especially in the more outlying areas.
The roll-out to the rest of Africa will follow the deployment of the Wi-Fi network to Absa’s South African branch network. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media