Long gone are the days of pesky ATM visits to ensure you have sufficient cash on hand to get by. Thanks to digital technology, many South Africans now rely on apps and online portals to handle their money. When these systems run smoothly, they can fulfil an entire customer journey – from sign-up through to cancellation – in the digital environment, saving users time and avoiding physical-world irritations.
Unfortunately, things don’t always run smoothly, and the convenience of these banking apps and online portals is only as good as their technology allows. This was made evident in BrandsEye’s 2021 South African Banking Sentiment Index, which revealed customers were often let down by unstable digital infrastructure.
Based on over 2.7 million consumer social media posts directed at the country’s major banks between 1 September 2020 and 31 August 2021, the index results show that digital banking experience brought down public consumer net sentiment this year. This means that South African banks’ digital offerings essentially detracted from – rather than added to – customers’ overall banking experience.
With the move away from traditional channels towards digital ones, social media has continued to gain traction as a quick and simple way of providing and getting feedback. It’s no surprise then that when a banking app malfunctions, tens of thousands of customers jump onto social media to complain or ask what’s going on. E-wallets and Capitec money-in notifications have thus become part of the lingua franca on South African Twitter.
Customers widely reported that they were prevented from logging in and conducting basic banking tasks like checking balances, buying data or making payments. Further compounding the issue was the timing of outages. Many frustrated customers pointed out that digital systems tended to fail in crucial moments — around payday, for example.
In some cases, poorly planned system maintenance failed to put customers first, while high volumes of traffic seemingly caused unexpected outages. However, it is within reach for all banks to mitigate these issues with carefully considered maintenance schedules and more robust infrastructure to handle end-of-month surges of activity.
Looking at positive themes in social conversation this year, Apple Pay was a hot topic in April, when Discovery Bank was first in the market to offer iPhone users the payment method. This development also caused consumers around the country to question why their bank hadn’t yet provided support for the contactless payment technology. Only five of the eight main retail banks have integrated with the platform.
Capitec’s share-trading widget in partnership with EasyEquities was another innovation that won praise from the public. Aside from brand ambassadors promoting the functionality, authors speaking about financial education encouraged Capitec clients to use the low-cost investment tool.
Zero rating remained a vital part of keeping apps accessible to the broader public. One of the most common complaints came from customers who reported that their app required mobile data to operate. This issue is likely to remain a point of contention so long as data prices remain unaffordable.
The reliability of access will be a critical differentiator between banks’ digital experience offerings going forward. Consumers’ high reliance on digital platforms means that any system interruption is likely to impact many users at any given moment. Banks must go further than improving the reliability of apps at the login stage; driving accessibility through more self-service options will enhance the customer experience. Finally, innovations that focused on making banking easier resonated with customers. Focusing development on core banking functions, as opposed to auxiliary services such as marketplaces, is likely to have a greater pay-off in terms of customer experience.
- Channon Perry is BrandsEye’s lead banking analyst