A meme that went viral on social media a few weeks ago revealed that followers felt that it was not the CEO, nor the CIO in an organisation that fast tracked the digital transformation of their businesses, but the Covid-19 lockdown.

Penny Futter, Chief Information Officer of African Bank says that many companies find themselves in an uncanny situation where Covid-19 has been the unexpected catalyst for digital adoption.  Significantly, those companies that had solid digital foundations are now tweaking aspects of their offering as opposed to building digital solutions from the ground up.

“Since the Bank’s launch in 2016, we have emphasised and developed our digital technology to offer easier and more convenient platforms for customers to engage with us. There is however no doubt that the Covid-19 lockdown has accelerated our digital adoption. Since the lockdown, our customers have moved to using the digital channels so they can continue to be serviced by the Bank” added Futter.

African Bank’s Omni-channel digital solution was not about having a pandemic-proof, digital-relevant strategy; it was about how our digital platforms could boost and facilitate financial inclusion. Time, skills and capital was invested to better understand our customer on a granular level and build platforms that meet their needs.

In January this year, African Bank increased its team of data scientists to 57 fulltime employees. Proactively, the use of data supports some of the business objectives to provide services and products that our customers need and value as well as to improve customer satisfaction.

Futter notes that the Bank’s statistics reveals that our consumer’s appetite to adopt our digital channels to continue self-servicing during times of restricted physical movement has increased.

The African Bank banking app was launched in January 2019 and downloads of the app have grown by over 1 000% by April 2020, with 90% Android users and 10% iOS users. Registrations on our Online Banking platform have grown by over 220% over the past year. The Chatbot, “Karabo”, is handling some 31 000 interactions per month with African Bank and they are targeting 85% of all servicing functions to be fulfilled on “Karabo” by 2022. This technology is using the latest in supervised Artificial Intelligence learning to enhance human-machine relationships. The utilisation of Value Added Services (VAS), which is the purchase of airtime, data and electricity, has also increased by 244% over the past year.

African Bank’s branch network remains a core distribution channel to our service offering even with the adoption of digital by our customers.  South Africa has an estimated unbanked or under banked population of some 11 million people. The majority of these people do not use digital technologies due to limited access to such technologies, limited education on how to use them or data cost.

According to Google’s Quarterly Business Review for 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to some key emerging trends in South Africa:

The Non-Contact Revolution: with a decline in foot traffic to physical stores, consumers are now rapidly converging online for various shopping needs resulting in an unprecedented adoption and usage of grocery delivery services.

Home is the New Office: As professionals rethink their work from home environments, interest in the use of video conferencing tools has increased by 58%. At African Bank, we are supporting this trend by enabling our workforce with systems, processes and an appropriate support culture to effectively work from home. This is a trend that will likely remain in place once the lockdown eases because it has proven to be effective for African Bank.

African Bank’s CEO, Basani Maluleke has been vocal in her support of co-located workspaces to enable the Banks’ employees to work at home, or at venues closer to their homes. Many of these initiatives will surely remain, which reduces commute times and increases productivity.

The lockdown has also thrown up an increase in interest in people navigating their financial wellbeing.

Google’s Quarterly Business Review for 2020 noted an increase in investing activities of 25% across South Africa. Consumers are holding back on discretionary spending and showing more interest in risk-mitigating financial products. The previous quarter saw an 11% increase in searches for “insurance policy”. Other top search terms included “personal loans” and “personal loan calculators” indicating that clients are also looking for personal financial relief. The industry across South Africa reported an 8% increase in installations of banking apps.

“What this means for an emerging digital challenger like African Bank is that the agility that we have built into our Digital solutions and low-cost operating models, allows us to continually adapt the nature of the financial services that we offer. Furthermore, it enables us to influence the rapid adoption of these services across our digital platforms” concludes Futter.