'It’s extraordinary.' Standard Bank goes 99% digital during pandemic

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Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala. Photo: Gallo Images / Business Day / Freddy Mavunda
Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala. Photo: Gallo Images / Business Day / Freddy Mavunda

Standard Bank said 99% of its transaction volumes in South Africa are now cashless, a trend that has helped the continent’s largest lender by assets to cut costs.

“It’s extraordinary,” Standard Bank’s CEO Sim Tshabalala said in an interview with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Matthew Winkler at the Africa Business Media Innovators Conversation. “What we’ve seen is an incredible shift to electronic ways of doing things.”

Standard Bank, which dates back to 1862, is seeking to add at least 10 million customers by 2025, and sees technology firms such as Amazon.com, Alibaba and Uber as its biggest competition within Africa.

ndemic and the ensuing lockdown across the continent coaxed Standard Bank’s customers into switching to digital banking. A tech-savvy youth population in Africa, where many countries often lack financial infrastructure, accelerated the process. The Johannesburg-based company has been cutting its branches and even floor space at its offices to help cut expenses. 

Outside Africa’s most-industrialized nation, digital transactions account for 95% of the bank’s volume, according to Tshabalala. 

The transformation of consumer preferences has placed Africa ahead of more developed economies and major emerging markets. 

In the US about 82% customers use digital payments - defined to include browser-based or in-app online purchases - according to McKinsey. Digital payments will account for 72% of all transactions in India by 2025, according to ACI Worldwide.

Standard Bank plans to forge alliances with distribution partners and expand its product offering as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, Tshabalala said.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • On sustainability: Standard Bank is “committing to carbon neutrality, as is everybody, by 2025. We have to do that, however, in the context of a just transition as contemplated in the Paris Agreement.”
  • On climate change: “You got to do all of it - make sure that you transition your economy, you move away from brown assets and move to green, you make the appropriate investments, but you do so in a way that takes account of the fact that there are human beings with jobs.”
  • On a just transition to green energy: Eskom’s “power is generated almost exclusively by coal. Nobody in their right minds would argue that in the long term, that situation is one which should continue. And in fact, Eskom has been able to assist the South African government in generating $8.5 billion funding that has been arranged for purposes of assisting in greening the South African economy. And therein lies the proposition, global social solidarity, a commitment to a green economy, even in Africa, but making sure that that change and that transition happens in a rational and in a way that is fair, so that you don’t have social dislocation.”
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