Standard Bank gets into telco game

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SB Mobile CEO Stephen Bailey and Funeka Montjane, chief executive for Standard Bank personal and business banking SA.
SB Mobile CEO Stephen Bailey and Funeka Montjane, chief executive for Standard Bank personal and business banking SA.

Standard Bank has officially launched its own mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) called SB Mobile. The bank announced its new foray into the telecoms market today at an event in Johannesburg.

Consumers were expecting a mobile offering from Standard Bank after it last month confirmed plans to launch an MVNO, but gave no details. Today, it confirmed the MVNO will use wireless capacity from mobile operators Cell C and MTN, roaming on their LTE networks.

SB Mobile CEO Stephen Bailey says the MVNO space in SA is fiercely competitive at the moment but SB Mobile is offering something totally different. He calls it an integrated, rather than a standalone service, "which rewards subscription customers with free airtime and data for doing something they do every day - bank".

"We are not launching a new mobile network. We are extending our digital offering to our clients," says Funeka Montjane, chief executive for Standard Bank personal and business banking South Africa.

"As Standard Bank embarks on an extensive digitisation drive, mobile communication has become a key feature in modern financial services. It's impossible to separate your phone, from your credit card, insurance or ability to transfer funds across borders. SB Mobile is an extension of our digital offering," Montjane adds.

The offering is only open to Standard Bank customers, at a flat monthly subscription fee of R39.

Signed up customers will get free airtime to the value of their monthly banking fees, based on their specific account tier: for Elite (R105 free airtime), Prestige (R205), Private and Professional (R369) and Wealth and Signature (R469 in free airtime).

Customers also get 1MB of data free for every R10 they spend on their credit card and 1MB of data free for every R20 they spend on their cheque or debit cards.

"We have also done away with data bundles; customers can select the data price that suits them, with no expiry. Data pricing is from 5c per MB," Bailey explains.

The idea of cutting out bundles is quite different to what the market is used to. Instead, SB Mobile will let customers chose their own data and voice rates for a fee. For example, if you want data rates of 15c/MB then you pay R49 per month; for 12c/MB you pay R69 per month; for 9c/MB you pay R99 per month; for 7c/MB you pay R149 per month; and for 5c/MB you pay R249 per month.

The rate you choose determines the rate at which airtime, either free or purchased, and spend limit for the month depletes.

The same applies to voice where a rate of 99c/minute will cost R29 per month; 89c/minute will cost R39 per month; 79c/minute will cost R79 per month; and 49c/minute will cost R139 per month.

While Cell C is the primary network operator currently in use, the bank says it remains open to other network providers in the future as it expands and adds additional services with a view of extending the offering across Africa.

SB Mobile plans to provide handsets in the first quarter of next year and to add broadband services, like fixed LTE and fibre, shortly afterwards. The current service will provide a branded SIM card with a new number, while existing cell numbers can also be retained.

"We are offering the next level of connectivity based on choices a customer wants to make. In the new digital world, people's expectations are increasing and customers are demanding more personalised, reliable products and services at the time and place they want them," says Bailey.

The Standard Bank MVNO comes over three years after rival First National Bank (FNB) launched its mobile offering, FNB Connect, in June 2015. By November 2015, it had racked up 100 000 customers, and by March 2018 this had grown to over 600 000 active users.

Bailey would not give ITWeb any specific subcriber targets SB Mobile is aiming for but said he had "reasonable expectations" that the MVNO would do very well.

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