TymeBank, running on AWS, proves fully digital banking is profitable, transformative

By Tracy Burrows, Contributor

Johannesburg, 21 May 2024
TymeBank is a fully digital bank.
TymeBank is a fully digital bank.

Building and running TymeBank on the AWS cloud has supported the bank’s phenomenal growth and helped it to make banking cheaper and more accessible for millions of people.

TymeBank, launched in South Africa in 2019 as the country’s first fully digital bank, recently achieved a major financial sector milestone of reaching profitability in under five years. The bank was named News 24’s Bank of the Year and ranked top in South Africa in Forbes’ World’s Best Banks for 2024. The bank works to serve the unbanked and underbanked with low charges, high interest rates on savings and a growing range of financial services. As a fully digital bank, customers transact using an app, kiosks and thousands of till points in retail stores of the Pick n Pay, Boxer and TFG networks. Over 9.1 million South Africans are TymeBank customers.

"The TymeBank story is a shining example of how cloud technology can enable financial institutions to disrupt traditional banking models and better serve their customers," added Chris Erasmus, AWS Commercial Sector Country Manager, South Africa. "We are proud to support TymeBank's journey of reaching profitability in such a short timeframe. It is an exemplary testament to the hard work and dedication of the TymeBank team, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration as the bank further expands its reach and impact in the market."

In addition, the Tyme Group has expanded into the Philippines with GoTyme Bank, which reached 3 million customers in its first 17 months, and is constantly working to expand the platform outside of Africa and into Asia to continue serving customers with more products and greater accessibility.

One cloud powers Tyme success

TymeX, the next-generation technology engine powering Tyme Group banking around the world, is a ‘single cloud shop’, with all its infrastructure in the AWS cloud.

Cobus Frey, Product Owner Global Cloud at TymeX, says the AWS cloud and AWS cloud tools have given the Tyme Group all the infrastructure and tools it needs to scale and innovate.

At launch, the bank migrated 85% of its infrastructure to AWS and ran its mission-critical service in a containerised architecture built on Amazon ECS and Amazon EKS. The bank now considers itself cloud native, says Frey. “Everything is in the cloud. TymeBank was originally built in a data centre, but we were in the cloud by go-live. Later, the rest moved to the cloud, and our second bank has never seen a data centre. We are now preparing for further expansion. We see ourselves as serial bank builders, and technology drives what we are doing,” he says.

Benefits for business

Frey says: “The AWS cloud’s total value proposition includes cost controls, as technology is a huge cost. It enables us to be available, scalable and even quickly take products away if they don’t do well. Our time to market is very quick, and we can scale rapidly.”

At month-ends, when transaction numbers soar, TymeX can scale easily, using AWS AI tools to help identify patterns and predict significant increases in transaction numbers.

Being in the AWS cloud supports innovation, he says: “We can easily spin up things and test them. There are no lead times with the cloud, and you can easily test innovations and do things you wouldn’t normally be able to do.”

He notes: “To get the value of the cloud, you need to use the native data tools to make the value proposition work for you. There is no way we could have grown the way we have if we had not been in the cloud.”

Benefits for IT

Frey says running infrastructure in the cloud offers his team myriad benefits. “You can exhale if you don’t have to worry about on-premises issues like power, cooling and hardware costs in data centres. Some people may disagree, but we find running in the cloud is more cost-effective – if you carefully control costs and what people build in the cloud. You need to change people’s habits and manage them very closely. I am responsible for the FinOps and have consolidated multiple organisations for efficiencies and cost control. AWS cost management tools also help with reporting and identifying wastage,” he says.

We use AWS tools to monitor flows to see the best windows for patching. We deploy over 230 pieces of code per month, and being in the cloud greatly contributes to that. With cloud, if you find a bug, you can fix it quickly,” he says.

“We also benefit from a lighter tech team, as we don’t need people building VMs, patching and configuring carts. We still have a networking complement and transitioned the people who were working on-premises to work on cloud.”

Frey’s advice for controlling costs and optimising the value of the cloud is: “If you can, don’t lift and shift – develop as much as you can in the cloud, because it will help with cost saving. You need to build for the cloud wherever possible. Control is crucial, but you shouldn’t let FinOps be run by an accountant who might focus only on building cheaper. It should be run by someone who understands both architecture and finance. It is also important to build a culture of observability, FinOps and cyber awareness as you transition from an on-premises environment to the cloud.”

Making cashless convenience accessible

Frey says TymeBank’s impact on the unbanked is significant. “We have over 9.1 million customers and still onboard between 160 000 and 200 000 new customers per month. The simplicity and the availability of our services is driving uptake,” he says. “Opening an account is simple – because we don’t have branches, there’s no intimidation around filling out forms. People can simply use our kiosks to be verified with their fingerprint and some questions, they get approved for accounts right away, and they can walk out with a printed card and start transacting.”

He adds: “Many become customers because the bank has cheaper fees and offers higher interest on fixed savings accounts. We offer products to help people save for particular goals, and we were the only bank that gave people the full SASSA grant – we don’t charge bank fees, they get a card for free and don’t pay for most transactions. It gives people a little more trust in banking and supports a cashless society.”