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FNB’s incredible shrinking Slow Lounge rewards

Platinum and Private Clients customers are in for quite a surprise.

I was wrong. Eight months ago, I wondered aloud on Moneyweb whether FNB would cut down the number of Slow Lounge visits its Platinum cardholders are ‘rewarded’ with, to two per month in the next 24 months.

FNB announced this week – through a confusing maze of PDFs on its main website and eBucks site – that from July 1, Platinum customers are limited to two free visits per month.

I was wrong; about the 24 months part.

This follows an obvious pattern. A few years ago (as the bank aggressively sold customers on the Platinum account proposition), the number of visits was unlimited. Before October’s ‘overhaul’ of the eBucks programme, having a Platinum account entitled you to six visits a month (two during peak times, four during off-peak). After the ‘overhaul’, it was effectively two visits a month per card (credit and cheque), and you had to meet a number of hurdles (or in bank parlance, ‘qualifying criteria’).

Here’s the real clincher: if you don’t have both a Platinum cheque and Platinum credit card, you get no free visits. Zero.

Also, the access to Slow in the City (opposite the Gautrain station in Sandton), while previously available at R125 per day visit, has quietly disappeared.

But, it gets ‘better’…not only will you be limited to (a total of) two visits per month, access to the Slow Lounges (at OR Tambo, Cape Town and King Shaka airports) is “limited to 90 minutes before boarding time”.1 This is described by the bank as “a capacity management system to ensure that lounge volumes are not in excess of occupancy”. That’s not quite English, but I digress.

If you’re a customer, you should’ve seen the writing on the wall.

The lounges are almost perpetually over-capacity. The corridor which masquerades as an airport lounge at King Shaka has ‘guests’ practically sitting on each other’s laps nearly every night of the week, especially when the two evening British Airways flights are delayed (every other day). Last month, I was warmly welcomed and managed to barely find standing room. And the lounge at OR Tambo in the mornings is even more of a mess.

A cynic might suggest that this (successful) Slow Lounge rewards strategy over the last five years has been a deliberate bait-and-switch campaign by the bank. Get the profitable, desirable customers who’d typically fit the profile of a Platinum account-holder (earning between R350 000 and R749 999 per annum) to switch banks. Reward them like hell to begin with, and then start closing that spigot. Slowly at first. And then very quickly.

I’d probably not go so far, were it not for the bank’s very deliberate plan to syphon off the top end of those Platinum customers into its Private Clients offering (for those earning between R750 000 and R1 499 999 per year). There’s likely marketing-jargon for this, but it’s nothing more than an old-fashioned upsell.

When those eBucks changes were made in October, this Private Clients strategy was already in full swing. Our relationship bankers knew the script: ‘Upset about the limit of four visits a month to Slow? Move to Private Clients – its only a hundred rand a month more, and you get unlimited visits!’

Except from July 1, those same customers who’ve been aggressively sold the benefits of ‘Private Clients’ (effectively the Platinum package from four years ago, now at R345 per month), are limited to four Slow Lounge visits a month. And only if they have both a cheque and credit card (and meet the “qualifying criteria”). Private Clients account holders are also ‘rewarded’ with the 90-minutes-prior-to-boarding limit.

But here’s where FNB’s tactics become questionable… I can understand upselling unhappy Platinum customers to Private Clients in October 2014. What I don’t get is the aggressive selling of Private Clients that I know for a fact2 continued until as recently as the end of May. One of the specific ‘benefits’ that has been sold is the “unlimited Slow Lounge visits” you get on this account. Except now you don’t. And you’re paying R345 (vs R199 on Platinum) from July 1 for the privilege.

So, what can FNB Platinum clients expect in next July’s “The way you earn eBucks is being updated” email? My bet? Slow Lounge access falls away completely.

Perhaps this was a deliberate ruse all along to introduce a competitive private clients product in the gap below those who use actual private banking? This is something FNB has struggled with until now. The typical Platinum customer, myself included, probably shouldn’t get airport lounge access (and arguably never should have). It’s a private clients perk the world over. The problem of course is taking away something that someone’s become accustomed to enjoying for ‘free’. They might even have changed banks for it. But maybe I’m being too cynical?

I’m in two minds about what I should do. I travel a lot and barely get by on four Slow Lounge visits a month. The prospect of moving to a relatively expensive banking product only to have the rules changed again in July 2016 fills me with apprehension. Maybe it’s time to switch?

And if you think these Slow Lounge rewards changes are punitive, wait till you wade through the rest of the eBucks ‘changes’. But, more on that next week…

* Hilton Tarrant works at immedia, specialists in native mobile app and Web development, to contact him: hilton@moneyweb.co.za.

* He owns shares in FirstRand, first purchased in July 2011.

1 Should capacity be reached, the fine-print says, “FNB Private Wealth and RMB Private Bank customers will be granted preferential access”. And yes, this footnote in itself is fine-print.

2 Nearly every person I know on FNB Platinum who meets (or is even close to meeting) the earnings criteria, myself included, has been contacted about ‘upgrading’ to Private Clients.

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COMMENTS   49

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Discovery’s Vitality is just as bad. Lower rewards and increased cost. It’s R185 a month now.

Please read my post on rewards packages, Julius. Vitality is the main package that I am a member of, and it’s and excellent package if you use it properly.

I’m at the top level in Vitality and just my usual monthly expenses, spent at the correct outlets, earn me more in cashbacks every month than the annual membership fees. BUT – I make a concerted effort to use those outlets that provide the rewards. One example – My wife & I have been members at Virgin Active (previously Health & Racquet Club) since we joined Vitality in 2000. ALL it cost me was the once-off fee of approximately R600 per person (at that time) & NO payments since then. We use the gym all the time – do the maths – I think it costs around R500 per person per month now!

Add to that the 25% savings on certain food items at Pick ‘n Pay or Woolworths. Add to that the 10 times Pick ‘n Pay Smart Shopper points – my wife has in excess of R16,000 in the kitty & I have around R1,600. This is hard cash, available to use for shopping at PnP or their travel packages. We also buy most of our toiletries & supplements at DisChem & get 25% cash-back on most of the items we buy, simply because we’re selective – AND – they’re the very good quality name-brands at that. We have around R1,700 in that kitty & had a similar amount at Clicks.

Maintaining our membership levels (Diamond) is not very difficult, but then, I am very aware of the requirements. Most folks don’t familiarise themselves with these and then blame the facility/Discovery. My wife & I already qualified for this level for 2016 over the Easter weekend this year. This facility definitely suits our lifestyle – think of this before joining.

As a couple, Vitality membership is costing me R219pm & it’s money VERY well spent.

Unfortunately most people who criticize Vitality (you included) appear to do so from a position of ignorance (I mean that in a good way = lack of knowledge) rather than application of facts.

Totally agree. My rewards are in excess of my vitality and medical aid premiums. I recently received my life premiums cash back (based on vitality status and medical aid claims) 45% back for the past 5 years.

The one change that has annoyed me, is the change is 10x smart shopper points, this is now 10x discovery miles – which actually allows me to spend it on a larger variety of things online on Takealot.

You do however have to fully engage, to enjoy the benefits. Someone on a blue vitality status and not following the right channels, is wasting their time.

I have no idea how many Vitality members there are. Can’t find a number either by googling it. Discovery must keep this number under wraps for a very good reason. Let’s for arguments sake say 200 000. So that means R185x12x200 000= 444 million rands for jam! Over the years it’s earned them billions of rands. The guy who came up with this Vitality thing is a genius surpassing even Einstein.

Not quite. They have to pay the reward partners like Woolies and Virgin Active so that members get discounts and obviously have costs in administering the whole thing.

As of June 2014, there are 1 687 831 members on Vitality. Source is Discovery’s 2014 annual report.

Hi Julius Cobbett, is there a way to speak to you privately?

They also increased the minimum limit of the platinum account for free transactions. In the past if you kept more than R12k in your account throughout the month your bank charges were waived and you paid nothing. In the latest price listing from FNB they have now increased this to R50k. That is an increase of over 400%. A lot of customers would have signed up for this account based on that initial amount of R12k and maybe expecting to increase with inflation every year. Even 10% increase would have been reasonable. I know i did. And now they increase it to an amount most of the customers targeted for the platinum account wont be able to maintain throughout the month. Thus they will increase their revenue because now these customers will have to pay bank charges.

Considering the challenges of indebtedness in SA (i.e. African Bank) its worrisome that banks use rewards programmes to entice people to take on debt. I have also noticed this trend of reduced benefits and as a result of my non compliance to their wishes I am on level 1. As regards to strategy and tactic – this is what I got from Roseline Elms @ FNB when I did not want to sign up to their marketing option: “Attached please find the marketing consent form that needs to be completed and signed. It has been brought to our attention that you currently earn EBUCKS on your other products with FNB, on your home loan marketing consent form, you opted not to receive Marketing material from FNB, as a result of this all the EBUCKS that you have earned will fall away, as per the disclaimer on the consent form. If you do not wish to lose all EBUCKS earned you need to select “yes” on the consent form and at least one method (post,email, sms, etc). Kindly complete and mail back to myself within 48 hours. Please note: if this is a joint bond application both parties need to complete and return.” Rogue, very rogue!

Why pay to sit in a crowded room? Go stand in a post office or this very same bank on pension day. Its free.

LOL. Does anyone in this day and age still fall for these euphemistic ‘rewards programmes’? Does anyone have the time to check out the fine print and then jump through all the hoops to qualify? These schemes have never added value to my life, and the less I have to do with banks the better.
As for Vitality, it’s a cash cow for Discovery, and ONLY Discovery. All this bumpf about healthy people spending less on meds – yeah right – only to spend more on driving to docs to have tests done they don’t need, spend mega bucks on electronic wizardry only to spend hours entering calories eaten or whatnot. Not to mention the flaming hoops that one has to jump through like an obedient lap dog just to ‘qualify’.

Time to switch? Maybe it’s time to ditch!

I was up-sold to Private Clients, but the service was horrendous and I moved back down to Platinum. I wont say its worth the move unless you get a really good (and responsive) private banker. For me it took on average 5 – 10 minutes to get through to my banker (per telephone). Also no response on emails sent – after many follow up emails I had to tweet to @RBJacobs just to get a response (8 days later). FNB, not great hey…

I understand your frustration but anyone who pays up for benefits is likely to be disappointed. There will always be the exception to the norm but paying an extra R 200 odd rand a month (R2400 per year) for somewhat frivolous benefits doesn’t make sense to me. I’d rather sit in the woolworths and have a meal and coffee when I fly (once or twice a month) if I’m early for my flight. As I said, for people who fly more often than this (a very small % of people who actually have the service available to them) it may make sense, for the masses it’s a means to extra further fees from the client. It’s not just FNB it’s most reward/value add programs – the companies know a large % of clients won’t actually make use of the value add services but pay up for them anyway.

Good! The Slow Lounge has become unbearable lately (it seems anyone with a bank account can get in). It is more enjoyable to sit at a restaurant in the terminal rather than brave the crowds in the Slow Lounge. The lounge should be reserved for business class passengers as originally intended.

I’m on a Platinum package, which comes with many bells I don’t ring and whistles I don’t blow. One of these “perks” is a “dedicated” private banker, who contacts me religiously every month to upsell to the Private client package…

“Ya get nuthin’ for nuthin’…” (Axl Rose in It’s So Easy)

To call them “private bankers” is an insult to the intelligence. They are no more than clerks who have the privilege of sitting in a separate office and are sometimes able to persuade clients to invest in one of their money-shrinking savings or deposit accounts. Ask them about anything more complex and they are utterly useless. I am generalising but this is certainly my experience over many years with one of the big 4 (starts with an “A”).

Try Standard Bank Private Clients – – they are really the best of the lot (and I realise this does not say much)

Soon to start with a “B”

It seems vanity is alive and well, and the banks certainly know how to get their hooks into you. My bankers have been trying for years to upgrade my card to gold status – I have countered that I will move to a gold card provided my current charges are not altered at all – no deal they want you to pay higher fees. Also won’t be part of their green backs program because it has an annual costs which seem to increase quicker than the accumulated points. Then there is the annual card renewal yet they only physically re issue a new card once every 3 years – so why the annual renewal fees – seems a bit mercenary. These days I only visit the bank if it is an absolute necessity, and yet when visiting them you still find that they actually believe banking is complex – what utter nonsense banking is very simple, the back have made a rod for their backs and introduced the complexity into their products which their sales people have very little comprehension of as a product

Thank you for this insightful article.

According to me, FNB have always had questionable marketing tactics (read: “sell like hell or lose your job!”).
A friend of mine particularly “loves” FNB exactly because of his free, unlimited Slow Lounge access. (He managed to move to Private Clients…without earning the “qualifying” salary though…).
The same thing happened with the “free ATM withdrawals”. Suddenly went down to six a month. Wonder if it’s now four a month from 1 July?
And, by the way, there’s no more FNB ATM at the Cape Town International Airport.
Time to switch?

The qualifying salary is a complete red herring. FNB will sell Private Clients products to just about anyone.

I am a big fan of FNB — but this issue will make my loyalty evaporate quite quickly.

I upgraded to Private Clients for the express purpose of having airport lounge access even when there were capacity issues. The difference in price was justified only by the airport lounge access — the other benefits are simply not worth it. The 3 times I contact my “Private Banker” I got no resolution in any case — and for the rest I don’t need a face –99% of my needs are met with internet banking.

Now this benefit is turning into junk. 90 minutes? When making connections from international flights it is quite easy to exceed that and that is exactly when you need the lounge the most.

The other banks have mostly caught up with FNB’s innovation and I don’t see FNB really innovating further. Maybe it is time to consider switching again — after all — FNB demonstrated how easy it is.

Hilton, they’re still a rock solid bank with very good internet banking. And that’s what a bank should be, the rest is fluff. So, if you don’t attach value to status, my suggestion is to DOWNGRADE to Gold, as you still get a very good deal for even less. Forget about the eBucks, it’s become too difficult to earn them. Forget about the Slow Lounge, it’s become too difficult to visit them. Which means, you DON’T need a credit card, and you DON’T have to receive marketing material. You won’t be FNB’s favourite client for this, but then, they’ve pushed you there…

I always have had the same philosophy as you, and stuck with a Smart Account (below Gold). I am being forced to UPGRADE to Gold maintain the same package I had before, entailing a 100% price increase.

FNB seem to be interested in segmenting customers and boosting fees nowadays, rather than improving value. If enough people downgrade to Gold from Platinum, they will simply increase the fees on Gold, or try some other trick.

If you like long queues like at the Slow Lounge may I also suggest, in addition to home affairs dept, the traffic department. Long queues already start at 08:15 in the morning 5 days a week guaranteed. If you like phone queues there is the SARS call centre – yesterday I was no 181 in the queue. If you like queues in written format, try submitting an application to rezone a piece of land for property development. If you want to go for something on the extreme side, I understand that the queue for an RDP house can be as long as 10 years – no really 10 years! Also check out your local municipality, especially the building plans department, I am sure you will find some long queues there as well.

If Minister Peters gets her way with driver re-testing at licence renewal, you will find that the traffic department queues will start at midnight and you will get to the front of the queue some 48 hours later, at which time you will feel so shagged out that you will fail the test. You will be unable to open your eyes, let alone have them tested. Take plenty of warm clothing and liquid sustenance, and if the eyes don’t get you, the breathalyser will. We live in interesting times.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

FNB are squeezing the lower end of the market as well. Their Smart Account used to cost R49 for unlimited electronic transactions. It has now been limited to 10 free transactions a month for the same price. If you want unlimited electronic transactions, you have to pay R100 a month for a Gold Cheque Account. They are effectively forcing a 100% price increase for the exact same package.

I have the feeling that FNB has rapidly lost the plot since the departure of Michael Jordaan-their attempts to squeeze their customers are going to cost the bank a lot of goodwill.

Aside from a weekly/daily traveler, why is the slow lounge a perk.

I moved to Capitec. My banking habits left my aerage banking charges with them at R52 per month. My interest earned on my decreasing balance during the month is average R55. So I bank for “free”.

My Private Clients was R345 per month with interest of R15. Thats R330 per month or basially R4000 per year. A hell of a lot of Mug & Bean sit downs for the odd time I travel

I have found slow lounge access to platinum card holders does not exist refused entry on many occasions supposedly because lounge is full
the whole exercise is a marketing farce – dont be conned by these types of schemes- unfortunately it seems as though the banks mission of providing banking products has moved to providing all of these so called products like selling air time and ipads which are just nothing more than marketing gimics

I am not a FNB client I hold Gold BA Exec club card Slow lounges are not what they used to be. Everybody and his dog gets access these days. I travel business or first so I can access the lounges, but due to the overcrowding and the service levels dropping, I now fly every alt domestic flight with SAA. Although the service and lounges are not much better, the SAA aircraft fleet are new Airbus, the seats more comfortable, the prices in Business class better. Slow lounge experience was always good – no longer.

I remember criticizing this so-called “benefit” on MoneyWeb sometime towards the end of 2014 and one lady literally berated me for my efforts, claiming that she derives HUGE benefits from this. Whilst I do believe that SOME members actually DO derive more benefits than the membership actually costs them, this article simply confirms that, by-&-large, it’s a complete waste of money & FNB, with which I also bank, are simply creating options for themselves to make mega profits at their clients’ expense.

I am a member of a few select rewards packages and I make every effort to qualify for maximum rewards at all times – VERY successfully. The problem for most people is that they sign-up for numerous rewards packages due to pretty enticing advertising and then expect to receive maximum benefits without actually understanding the requirements. This goes for almost every type of “membership”, and was particularly exposed with the advent of all those very cheap long-term gym contracts many years ago.

Bottom line is: Investigate a rewards package thoroughly, and, only if you think the rewards are attainable CONSTANTLY, consider joining. I achieve more savings on my rewards package EVERY MONTH than the ANNUAL costs – but it takes commitment to read and understand what I’m doing and what’s required from me. I’m not bragging here, just trying to impart with a bit of the knowledge I’ve gained from years of “trial-&-error”.

The FNB offering to Platinum clients is little more than an evaporating mirage – if yourself in the Private Client bracket make sure you talk to Investec first. FNB are nowhere near providing the services that Investec can offer!

Exactly. Investec Private Bank is the only way to go

For a number of reasons I had two private bank accounts, Investec and FNB. After a number of unhappy experiences with the “qualifying criteria” I closed the FNB account. Never had any of the same fine-print issues with Investec: it’s all included in the monthly fee and they do not try to circumvent their own offering with changing qualifying criteria.

Very happy with my decision and I strongly recommend Investec Private Bank.

I’ve been banking with Investec Bank since the late 90s and I can wholeheartedly concur. I’ve never had one reason to complain in over 15 years and I don’t work for Investec.

When does somebody actually need a “private banker” Call me frugal if I was Warren Buffet I would still not see the use for a private banker(A person told to direct sales down certain channels)

Lounges are actually designed for frequent business travellers who get and keep their status on airline frequent flier programs or even airline alliances

FNB are just milking everybody.Keep your bank charges as low as possible as the benefits are marketing BS in most cases.Give me reduced DSTV if u really want to give me benefits.In the Uk your current account is free and free withdrawls at atm (no matter the bank)-Yes you can add frills but nothing added is really for free is it?

Last year FNB also tried to sell me a Graphite Account. I thought it was a spam mail because I had not read about it anywhere else. Until I saw a friend’s bank card and he confirmed it was real. Then I got a mail from a “private banker” offering me a Private Clients account. I replied saying they must have made a mistake since I don’t earn anywhere near the minimum qualifying criteria. I got no response. Some months later, the same email again offering the same, again I pointed out the qualifying criteria. Again, no reply.

The Folly of Reward schemes.
Many South Africans are superficial and material-driven brand snobs who, as it is with the clothing, cars etc consider that color of their bank card as a noteworthy status symbol.

Banks played on this simple fact, reduced the income qualifying criteria, re-branded their respective packages to give each a supposed aspirational factor, silver, gold, platinum etc, as is the ascending value of the commodities (more of an illusion than anything) and duly began to entice unwitting clients with reward programs.
As the uptake of these rewards swung into full action, so did the rise in costs to provide them, therefore,in an effort to mitigate these costs, the goalposts are continuously shifted to balance out the income (acc. fees) vs expenses ratio to a what satisfies the bank.
Simply put, FNB now has more platinum clients than at the schemes inception, therefore the costs of providing all these freebies have become unsustainable relative to the high number of clients using them…

Moral of the story is, the only thing that will ever reward you in life is your hard work, not your bank.
Use and see your bank as exactly that, a bank, that’s probably in it to take, more than they are to give.

Hilton: here’s a challenge for you. Add up what the average Joe would have spent a year on Vitality since inception, fees, gym fees, petrol going to the doctors for superfluous tests, time spent doing this (eg. R100-R200/h), money spent on electronic gadgets like pulse monitors and the like and the time spent messing about with them (R100-R200/h) Then work out what the Discovery shares would of been worth if all this money was spent buying their shares, say annually or bi-annually too date.

vs. eating sensibly, walking 5km and doing 30 situps and pushups per day – just to stay ‘healthy’, you understand. No third party needed, really.

If you want to calculate the value of your rewards programme just subtract what it costs every year from what you supposedly earned through the programme.

Once you are finished tell your bank manager to take a flying f*** at a rolling doughnut.

FNB have shown that all the supposedly good work of a few years ago was all hot air and not sustainable.All those clients who were literally falling over their feet to join them have realised no different to the others and I am sure many of them have felt robbed.The Private Bankers are also just messengers with a complete inability to exercise judgement or add any value to clients.They are all job hopping and that tells a story about the diabolical state of the leadership.They are judged on the number of upgrades they do,and that is not isolated to FNB.Its time for these rewards to come under scrutiny as they ae fleecing the public.

I have been a platinum customer for a while now, and based on the service I’ve experienced the last few months and what I’ve read online, including all the comments submitted here, I’m thinking the problem lies with FNB trying to expand beyond their capacity.
Leading to not only having to cut back on rewards, but also horrendous service from their premier bankers and from what I’ve seen, also their “complaints resolution” or “service recovery” departments, or whatever they like to be called.

I estimate I only received feedback on 50% of queries I submit to them, and then it dies down. This includes incorrect information given to me.

After I tried for more than a month to open additional loans and investments through FNB, speaking to more than 10 different employees and getting nowhere, I am finally moving to Investec.

Vis a vi the comments from most recent post i omitted to mention in my initial message similar conduct from premier banking in response to queries logged regarding slow lounges – initial response from fnb – slow lounges have nothing to do with fnb!! – you must log a complaint on slow lounge web page – thereafter further emails from so called complaints resolution at premier banking advising matter has been escalated but never any response from the bank after three months – just decided its best to buy your own tea and coffee at the airport rather than dealing with these people. Incidentally when i confronted counter staff at or tambo slow lounge asked attendant what is your surname- ” not allowed to disclose’
= where are your managers – ” no managers working today”
what is your managers name ” sorry not allowed to disclose”
can i have his/ her email address ” sorry can’t disclose”
Just like dealing with another government department !!

So, another fellow traveller who has fallen victim to “escalation” at a bank or any other firm comprising two or more people. The Oxford dictionary is silent on the modern usage of the word, which actually means “I haven’t a clue what you are talking about, so I will ask someone who has been here a bit longer than me to reply to you”. When dealing with complaints that no-one in the company knows anything about, it has become fashionable to “escalate” the query to another company entirely. For example, your ISP “escalating” the problem to Telkom which means that sweet fa will happen, other than even more frustration. But I suppose it’s better than the salutation “enjoy the day further” which in email form often has a capital F.

Amazing how we pay to get disappointed!
My suggestion, don’t subscribe to these programmes, and pay at any lounge should the need arise to use their facility. More often then not you are in a rush!

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