Banks amplify load-shedding mitigation measures

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 25 Jan 2023

Big banks are amplifying efforts to cushion themselves against load-shedding, to mitigate the risks associated with rolling power outages.

As the Eskom power cuts continue, the impact has become a concern in the financial services sector, leading to banks finding alternative solutions to limit the impact on clients and their businesses.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has also cautioned that rolling power cuts may pose a threat to the country’s financial stability.

In its latest financial stability review, the central bank notes: “Insufficient and unreliable electricity supply is likely to threaten the viability of some corporates, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, for the foreseeable future, with losses potentially spilling over into the financial sector.”

Detailing the impact of power cuts on banks, SARB says continuous power cuts will lead to challenges in recharging batteries for automated teller machines (ATMs) and telco network towers, both of which are critical to the financial system.

Responding to the concerns, the banks say they now regularly review backup power contingency plans to minimise the impact of the power crisis.

A Nedbank spokesperson says the bank has remained resilient in ensuring continuous operations since the increased frequency of load-shedding.

The spokesperson says Nedbank branch ATMs are linked to the branch’s backup power and the bank is working on ensuring all its ATMs have 100% coverage. By the end of the third quarter, it will ensure 1 350 sites have backup power, states the spokesperson.

“As a business, we are well-prepared for load-shedding and currently have generators and alternative solutions in place to limit the impact on our clients and our business. 90.3% of the branches have backup power and are able to carry on with operations. Installation of a central battery system will be made during the first half of 2023 at the branches that currently don’t have backup power.

“Currently, clients are redirected and assisted via digital or call centre channels, and if need be, redirected to the closest alternative branch. There are also limited alternative payment methods, such as QR code payment. In terms of our corporate offices, all our offices have backup electricity supply and operate normally during load-shedding.”

Lee-Anne van Zyl, CEO of First National Bank (FNB) points-of-presence, comments: “We regularly review our backup power contingency plans to minimise inconvenience to customers in the event of load-shedding and power disruptions.

“While many of our points-of-presence and campuses are equipped with backup power, we also work closely with landlords in areas such as shopping malls, to minimise disruptions.

“Furthermore, we encourage our customers to use the FNB app, online and cellphone banking to access most of our services. FNB is committed to providing accessible financial and lifestyle solutions through assisted and unassisted channels.”

Standard Bank, Africa’s biggest lender, says it understands the frustration load-shedding causes to its business as well as customers, and has extensive backup facilities to ensure continuity.

Ross Linstrom, Standard Bank spokesperson, says: “Standard Bank, like many other businesses in South Africa, has gone to great lengths to mitigate the risks associated with rolling power outages.

“At all times, a viable and convenient alternative banking channel is and has been available to customers should an ATM not be available due to extended load-shedding, as an example.

“Standard Bank ATMs are equipped with backup power facilities that provide services to customers even when there is load-shedding. However, due to the nature and extent of load-shedding schedules at times, certain ATMs may not be available until such a time as their power backup systems have been replenished.”

Absa says it has “made every effort to ensure minimal customer impact during power outages and/or load-shedding”.

An Absa spokesperson tells ITWeb: “Power supply at the majority of our branches and branch ATMs is backed up by alternative power sources, to mitigate this risk.

“We are deploying alternative power sources to support our standalone ATMs over the coming months and a process to upgrade our ATM network with enhanced energy-efficient technology is under way.

“Absa actively participates in industry initiatives aimed at managing the impact of load-shedding and extended power outages on the financial services industry.”