Banking group Absa will soon overhaul its ATMs, adding a broad range of functionality to them, and launch mobile banking applications supporting a range of popular smartphone and tablet computer operating systems.
It says this is part of its long-term goal of providing a “unified customer experience” across platforms and devices, particularly entry-level devices.
Deputy managing executive for digital channels Adrian Vermooten says Absa is in the process of a wholesale “platform renewal”. The bank has created a core framework that can easily be adapted to various digital platforms, he says.
“Our model ensures we can support the latest browsers and operating systems and we’ll be able to support a great deal of customisations, widgets and applications on the back of it.”
Vermooten says Absa customers can expect smartphone and tablet apps “soon”, running on all major platforms. The news comes just weeks after rival First National Bank launched a transactional banking app that works on Android and iOS as well as some BlackBerry phones. Support for Nokia phones will follow.
“Our framework model allows us to optimise and customise services across multiple platforms,” Vermooten says. “This is ideal because we want to offer customers the best experience possible, regardless of their device.”
Absa is already testing an Android app internally. “Staff can open an account for a customer in five minutes from a tablet, including dealing with Fica requirements, screening the customer and issuing their bank card, which means shorter queues.”
The application prompts bank service staff to take pictures of ID books and other documentation. It then “geo tags” and “timestamps” the process.
“Like the early days of the Web, if you’re just putting your existing information on digital channels, you’re going to fail,” says Vermooten. “Behind each of these channels is a reengineered process.”
As access to the Internet in SA grows, so do customer expectations of what services they receive through digital platforms. “We want to provide access to our digital channels across all segments, particularly in the mobile space, and offer services to both high-end and low-end devices.”
The rudimentary Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, better known as USSD, is still Absa’s fastest-growing platform for offering mobile banking. USSD works on almost all phones, including the most basic feature phones.
Vermooten says one of the benefits of digital platforms is the speed at which they allow things to happen. “Our Wap portal supports loan applications, so it’s possible for a consumer to go from starting the application to having the money in their account within 10 minutes.”
He says part of Absa’s digital strategy is about recognising that customer expectations vary according to the channel they’re using. “Customers expect to queue in a bank, they expect a Web portal to be instant and always on and they expect mobile platforms to be fast but with fewer options.”
The move to digital platforms is not limited to a segment of Absa’s customer base, either. It’s happening across all sectors, from the barely banked to high-end users. “Branch transactions are down but every other channel is up,” Vermooten says.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to move our customers onto alternative channels and have more than 200 people in branches just doing customer education to encourage the migration to digital.”
Meanwhile, Absa says it will enhance the functionality of its ATMs in coming weeks. It’s promising new services on its 9 000 installed cash machines. “Already, it’s possible to load prepaid airtime, apply for loans and use products like CashSend, but we’re going to greatly expand that functionality,” Vermooten says, without wanting to elaborate. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral