Using digital delivery to inject more humanity into Africa’s banks Part 2

In the first of this two-part series, we heard from Christine Wu, Managing Executive, RBB, a division of Absa Group, as she shared her career journey as well as her thoughts on high-level banking trends in Africa. She also warned business leaders about the growing shift towards isolationism and what this could mean for companies - especially those delivering cloud services. In this second part, Christine unpacks some of the tech trends which she and her team are focusing on, as well as offering us a peek into the next two years and what they hold in store.

Tech trends shift to reflect Covid realities

While the ravages of the Corona Virus will be felt for decades to come, Christine says that the pandemic has given local ecommerce a real boost in an environment where offline transactions are significantly down.

Christine also points out that differences in consumer behaviour between Africa and the rest of the world is most clearly seen when it comes to mobile devices. While the rest of the world (particularly the US) is reliant on Apple and high-end Samsung devices, the youth in Africa are price constrained and so cheaper, entry-level smartphones are the norm in this mobile-dependent market.

“The income pyramid is so different in Africa. We need to calibrate our global perceptions when it comes to serving an African market. However, the reliance on mobile to access internet services in Africa has driven some real innovation in the market. We should also remember that customers in Africa are used to innovation and so banks need to be constantly improving their services to meet expectations,” she says.

Despite digital self-service offerings being a key to African delivery, Christine says that Covid has taught her that you can have very automated processes, but when it comes to certain services - like the relief packages - people still want human guidance and look for the reassurance of having someone to guide them through these tough times. “The human touch needs to be balanced with our tech delivery,” she advises.

The future will fit on a tiny screen

Unsurprisingly, mobile delivery and mobile development are a high priority for Christine and her team at Absa. But she also says that the need to facilitate payment features prominently on her tech agenda.

“Ease of payment must be a priority. Not just for the consumer, which is fairly good at the moment, but I am thinking particularly of merchants and how we must find ways to help them transact if we are to be a part of the economic recovery,” she says.

In this regard, she says chat commerce as one of the next big drivers is capturing the interest of her team and banks across the continent.

Christine sees some real challenges for the industry over the next few years.

“If you look at the overall projection for the banking industry in South Africa, we are facing a harsh reality. At the beginning of the lockdown, we were expecting a two- or four-quarter impact. More and more, though, we think we are looking at a 12- to 18-month impact. So for the next two years we will need to focus on serving our customer needs as they face the continued impact of the pandemic and their daily challenges.”

Unpacking what it is that customers expect, Christine says it's all about getting back to basics.

“When people are struggling they want some certainty. They want banks to be banks. They don’t want them to be their cool friend. They want certainty, trustworthiness. They want their banks to be well capitalised, to lend them money without worrying about risk and they look to banks to offer them guidance on how to get through the bad times. It’s about letting banks be banks again, about the humans behind the app who will make you feel safe,” she states.

Wrapping up, it is clear that Christine is obsessed with, as she puts it: “infusing humanity into technology”. Every aspect of her focus is driven by the need to help Absa customers get what they need in order to succeed. This new attitude is a fundamental break with how banks have traditionally been perceived. And, if Christine’s drive and passion are anything to go by, the African banking sector will indeed be infused with this new vision - to everyone’s benefit.

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