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Banks need to start from scratch to get digitisation right

South African banks are moving forward in terms of digital banking and digitisation but they still have a way to go.
If a customer still has to go into a bank and produce their identity document to complete their application, the bank hasn’t fully embraced digitisation. Image: Shutterstock

When banks first started introducing digitisation through innovations such as cellphone banking, it might have simply been a matter of moving existing processes into a digital format. However, as the digital world evolves at a rapid pace, this is no longer good enough and banks need to recognise that consumers are demanding faster, simpler, more efficient digitisation processes.

What is digital banking?

Don Bergal, senior vice president of corporate marketing at Temenos, notes that digital banking allows customers to tailor their banking experience to fit their needs. “This might mean making a transaction on their cellphone while sitting on the couch at home or initiating a loan application. They can call the bank or the call centre for live assistance when they reach the point where they need more info. That’s a customer-centric approach as opposed to a bank-centric approach,” he says.

However, Bergal notes that banks need to revise their viewpoint to consider the digitisation process from the customer’s standpoint. “The banks need to ask themselves what the customer is trying to accomplish and how the bank can make it easier for the customer as opposed to ‘what can my bank software do and how can I force my customers to fit into the intricacies of potentially very old legacy bank software?’”

Digitisation must be streamlined

Bergal says traditional banks starting out on the digitisation path often fall into the trap of taking their existing traditional banking systems and slapping a thin digital wrapper on it.

“If all the bank does is build a digital front end that is as complicated as the old traditional banking system – they are not going to meet the expectations of the new customer who has the choice of going to a digital bank that’s been built from the ground up that may only do a few things but does them very well. It’s a streamlined experience whether you’re opening an account, moving money or planning your budget. All of that has been built with the customer in mind and the traditional bank has to be able to offer that same level of convenience, that great experience, if they are going to compete,” he says.

Another example of banks failing to translate their existing processes to digitisation can be found in the fact that banks traditionally used different systems for different functions – for example, one system for current accounts and another for credit cards.

“If you try to take these systems online without an overhaul of your thinking, the banking interaction comes across as very disjointed to the customer. The idea behind a unified digital experience is that it hides the complexity of the different bank process behind a single simplified interface.”

The future of digital onboarding

Digital onboarding is the idea that you can open an account or apply for a loan – and do it completely digitally without needing a face-to-face or paper interaction with the bank.

“If you think about the process of applying for a personal loan or a credit card, it involves a number of things,” says Bergal. “First, the customer provides some basic information including their proof of identity. The bank needs to check the information provided, look at their personal history, look for any history of fraudulent activity, check their credit record, and see what their payment history is with other creditors.

“In a digital onboarding world, that whole process is done automatically by the bank through interconnected systems without the customer seeing any of it and without any paper interaction. There’s a fair amount of interaction that takes place behind the scenes and it’s all done digitally in real time and an answer is given to the customer very quickly.”  

The road is long

In South Africa, we have seen some steps towards digital onboarding. For example, First National Bank allows customers to set up a new bank account by uploading a selfie on their cellphone banking app. In addition, South African banks have been cutting jobs, closing branches and encouraging customers to use digital channels as part of their efforts to lower cost-to-income ratios.

However, Bergal notes that internationally consumers are able to process a credit card application and give a consumer authorisation in real time, allowing the consumer to leave the digital experience with a credit card number and an account ready for use.

“That’s a full digital onboarding experience,” he says. “If the customer still has to go into the bank and produce their identity document, then the bank hasn’t fully embraced digitisation. Ideally, the whole process should happen without you having to depart from the convenience of your mobile phone or your home.”

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Most SA banks have outdated servers, software and people who cling onto the ‘anti-cloud’ mantra. When they cut these things out, then they will make progress towards digitisation.

‘Digitisation’…….just a fancy word to hide the reality of removing any chance of competent staff,decent human interaction with the chance to build personal customer relationships, and the end result to be relegated to dealing with a faceless AI bot as the divide between ‘them’ and ‘us’ gets more prevalent


Soooo, you would prefer to drive to the bank find parking, walk to the branch, beat past hawkers and other pedestrians to stand in a que at the bank for a special “Human interaction”?
I say, no thank you.

Bring on the machines!

what percentage of their programs is still COBOL?

Not to mention outdated SOAP garbage

If after 20 years of filling in questionnaires about my credentials and even having two bank managers trying their best to do so no changes were made. It was only after I drew two lines thru the newest questionnaire and wrote “no use filling in this form because nothing get’s changed anyway” that somebody miraculously awoke and did something about it. To me it appears as if the questionnaire department and the rest of the bank (digital or not) live miles apart. In the good old day’s I would have walked into My Bank, changed whatever was necessary and it would have been recorded immediately. It’s time for companies to look at the concept of “why did it work in the past and not today” and make the necessary adjustments because you see digital is not always the only solution.

The cloud. What a money making racket for service providers. Every time you up or download you are using and paying for data. What happens if your internet service is blocked. No access to data. If you have data local you can still use. Relying only on the cloud is a terrible idea.

Cloud is actually saving companies money and allows for elasticity whereas most things in SA are made without thought of expansion and controlled by network ‘gods’.

Go ask Tymebank, National Bank of Australia etc. seem to be doing well by using cloud

End of comments.



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