SA banks see new opportunities in virtual, augmented reality

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South African banks are redefining their banking services with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), as they look to create immersive customer experiences on their online banking platforms.

As the COVID-19 pandemic drives more customers online, banks across the globe are integrating VR and AR to offer customers personalised and seamless digital services and reduce operational costs by offering the same services available in a physical branch.

While the next-frontier technologies are still in the early stages in SA’s banking sector, First National Bank (FNB), Nedbank, Absa and Standard Bank have invested in either AR or VR to provide customers with multiple functionson their mobile banking apps − including finding branch location, advanced gamification and education tutorials − as part of their bankingplatform strategies.

VR, which has been touted as the “next big thing” for several years, aims to immerse the user in a virtual environment, such as a holiday destination, through realistic images and sounds, while AR adds virtual elements to the current physical environment,according to Intel.

Absa partnered with Snapchat to introduce an augmented reality game on the multimedia messaging app. The game, introduced in December 2020, uses innovative tools to teach South Africans how to save money, while also providing daily entertainment.

Christine Wu, managing executive for customer value management at Absa retail and business bank, says customers have proven to be receptive to creative and interactive ways of engagement, with the game garnering 16 million plays – an equivalent of 49 years of playing time collectively, in a 12-day period.

“Leveraging technology to help consumers navigate banking and the digital marketplace is a top priority for Absa, and we have found that our customers are receptive to creative, interactive ways of engagement and education.

“Building on the successful Snapchat game, we launched Absa Advantage three weeks ago. The programme is an AR-led, incentive-based programme that engages our customers to adopt positive banking behaviours,” notes Wu.

Absa says it has seen a record number of customers adopting online payments and contactless payments, with its partner merchants reporting a 200% increase in payment volumes in 2020.

“With customers becoming more accustomed to convenient self-service features on the banking app, driving and stimulating smarter digital banking behaviour is now a non-negotiable. The factthat more than 100 000 customers signed-up for Absa Advantage in its first week is proof that gamification through augmented and virtual reality is fast becoming an effective way to connect with customers,” adds Wu.

According to Forrester’s Top Emerging Technologies in Banking in 2021 report, AR and VR are among the top “on-the-radar” banking technologies in which banks are planning to inject more investments towards this year.

“Banks across the globe are using AR to improve customer service in a variety of ways, with 32% of surveyed banks saying they would like to use VR for customer service, and another 32% wanting to use it for data analytics. VR also shows potential, particularly in times like the ongoing pandemic,” notes the report.

Christine Wu, managing executive, customer value management at Absa retail and business bank.
Christine Wu, managing executive, customer value management at Absa retail and business bank.

Banking becomes personal

Standard Bank SA has created a high-endvirtual reality gameto educate its customers about the advantageous of digital banking in a real user case scenario. In select branches, the bank has set up virtual reality experience rooms, where customers are given VR headsets to explore the bank’s digital offerings.

Adrian Vermooten, CIO ofStandard Bank, is of the view that while AR and VR are exciting developments in the local banking industry, advances in these technologies should be viewed as part of a sub-set of a much larger and deeper personalisation and digital engagement strategy.

“Standard Bank is focusing on creating contextual engagements with our customers. Our bank has already made substantial investments in deep learning, artificial intelligence, bots and robotics to support customer engagement, process data, chat on WhatsApp, route calls, even run audits to ensure seamless future-ready customer experiences, while freeing up our own rich talent and resources to focus on what is meaningful to our clients,” he explains.

Standard Bank has made use of data and deep learning across its services to make engagement contextual to the specific client, he adds.

In terms of rolling out AR or VR technologies into more services, Vermooten points out this will be determined by customer requirements, both in the present and future.

“VR will have a place in our future technology offerings if it makes a meaningful difference and adds value to our clients.”

In 2017, FNB added AR technologyto its banking app, to help users locate eBucks partner stores.

The bank has since also introduced FNB TV, a virtual reality service to help customers navigate banking easily, with video clips that show them how.

FNB says it is continuously updating FNB TV to help customers become aware of helpful tips and new products and services that the bank has on offer.

“Our proactive approach and leveraging emerging technologies is something we’re constantly looking to refine, and customers can look forward to further enhancements to services like support chatbots for common queries and customised in-app offerings based on their unique requirements, profiles and respective stages of their financial journeys,” says FNB.

Nedbank says it has added an AR feature to its Private Wealth mobile app built to help clients find the nearest ATM or Nedbank branch.

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