COVID-19: SA consumers shun bank branches, go digital

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South African banks are witnessing a sharp decline in customers visiting branches amid fears of the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

However, the banks say they are witnessing a marked increase in digital interactions from customers on their platforms.

Briefing faith-based organisations in Pretoria yesterday, president Cyril Ramaphosa said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has jumped from 116 to 150.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize says the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country is likely to increase to just under 200 today.

“We are quite certain by tomorrow [Friday] we would have gone much higher, probably just under 200,” said the minister.

The coronavirus outbreak came at a time major South African banks were already shutting down branches while encouraging users to switch to digital alternatives.

For example, Standard Bank has already closed 100 branches. However, other banks say they still see value in the branches to cater for clients who still demand human interactions.

Self-service infrastructure

A Nedbank spokesperson told ITWeb that the bank has seen a reduction of between 18% and 22% in total branch footfall after the outbreak of COVID-19.

“This is measured against our expected footfall for this period of the month and we will, of course, continue tracking the trend,” says the spokesperson.

“During the past three years, we have successfully encouraged and assisted clients to utilise our convenient network of ATMs as well as our cash deposit-enabled ATM devices for both cash deposit and withdrawal requirements. We currently handle between 75% and 80% of client cash requirements through our self-service infrastructure.

“As far as call centre volumes are concerned, we have not noticed any extraordinary call- or service-related volumes, which remain in line with our forecasted volumes for this time of the month.”

Standard Bank says as South Africans continue to face challenges around precautionary measures to minimise the risk of spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is encouraging customers to consider digital banking as a preferred option to visiting a physical branch.

In an e-mailed statement to ITWeb, the bank says: “Standard Bank has rigorous business continuity processes and practices in place. These are rehearsed and planned on a regular basis. All our plans are designed to ensure effective business continuity, the integrity of our systems and processes, and the safety and wellbeing of our staff and customers.

“Part of this plan would be to ensure the ability of our employees to fulfil their duties at other locations where the group operates or from home, depending on business and personal requirements.”

Funeka Montjane, Standard Bank’s chief executive of personal and business banking in SA, says: “The safety of our employees and customers is something that we care deeply about and we strongly encourage customers to use Standard Bank’s suite of digital banking tools for their financial needs, whether this be from a personal or business perspective.

“Digital platforms provide an efficient, fast, safe and nearly instantaneous solution to many, if not all, of your daily banking requirements, away from public spaces.”

Montjane adds that a Standard Bank representative at the call centre will always be available to assist customers should they require advice or have specific questions related to their financial needs.

“This will likely see a higher volume of calls at call centres, and we are preparing internal systems for this eventuality.

“Standard Bank continues to closely monitor developments on COVID-19 both locally and abroad to ensure precautionary health measures are in place for our employees, clients and all our stakeholders while ensuring business continuity remains uninterrupted,” she says.

Reasonable interactions

Meanwhile, Lee-Anne van Zyl, CEO of FNB Points of Presence, comments: “FNB branches serve an important purpose to most customers, including the elderly and we continue to see reasonable interactions across our footprint in South Africa.”

Van Zyl says over the past few weeks, FNB has been implementing the prerequisite health and safety precautionary measures to protect customers and staff against the spread of COVID-19.

“We have increased the frequency of cleaning our campuses, branches and ATMs, and where relevant, the environments go through deep cleaning. We have rolled out sanitisers across our campuses and this exercise will include over 600 FNB branches across South Africa.

“In addition, we continue to encourage customers to maximise the efficiency of convenient digital banking channels, including app and online banking. For instance, our customers can use our app to download bank statements and manage their debit or credit cards without going into a branch.”

An Absa spokesperson says: “We have seen a steady decline in customer visits to branches as people self-regulate the need to [go to] branches. In the interest of our customers, we have been educating and assisting them in using alternative platforms such as ATMs, the Absa Banking App and Absa Online.

“Absa has a comprehensive customer communication and engagement plan to help our customers navigate this difficult time. We are regularly engaging customers through Absa’s numerous platforms.”

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