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Absa frees up cellphone banking

Absa now offers free unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) access to its cellphone banking customers.

The offer is specifically for the bank's Vodacom customers, who use the Absa Cellphone Banking Lite service.

“This means, even without airtime, Absa Cellphone Banking Lite customers can still access and perform a host of transactions from their mobile handsets via USSD if they are a Vodacom client,” explains Adrian Vermooten, head of mobile channels at Absa.

He adds that the relevant customers will get free access to their bank accounts and the service is available immediately.

By dialling the *120*ABSA# (*120*2272#) Cellphone Banking Lite service, Absa customers can check their bank account balance, purchase prepaid airtime or prepaid electricity, apply for a personal loan and purchase funeral cover via USSD.

Obvious surprise

“This is a very good offer to the SA market, as costless services are still unusual, especially in the mobile and banking sectors,” says WWW Strategy MD Steven Ambrose.

He says the lite service appears to be targeted at the lower end of the market and this offering will make it easier and more accessible for that market profile.

“A big step is to allow top-up of cellular airtime for no actual charge to the user, even if that user has no airtime. It is so obviously a required service it is surprising that the other banks have not thought of it.”

Ambrose says cellphone banking is growing rapidly and this offer removes the barrier of cost, although for limited functionality, and this should stimulate the market further.

“The Absa offering is logical and strategic rather than particularly innovative. The actual cost of USSD has never been clearly defined and the charges from the cellular operators have always appeared rather arbitrary.”

He adds that Absa has either negotiated these fees away with Vodacom, or is absorbing them into the costs of doing business. “Either way it makes strategic sense as the mobile banking market becomes more competitive.

“In most cases, a combination of USSD and WAP with some SMS are on offer, and all of these carry a nominal cost. The key issue is if you have no airtime, you cannot access these services.”

Cost concern

The Mobility 2011 research project, conducted by World Wide Worx and backed by First National Bank, shows most cellphone banking is done via SMS, with 25% done via USSD shortcodes.

It also found that consumers are generally satisfied with cellphone banking, but rural concerns remain around security and costs, while urban is just around cost.

The research was conducted through a survey that covered the cellular habits of 1 203 South African cellphone owners.


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