STOCK TAKE | The Dis-Chem dodge - and will you be paying by cash, card or crypto?

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Cash, card or crypto?

How Pick n Pay is entrenching bitcoin in SA

How do you know someone invests in bitcoin? Because they’ll tell you - and often with an intensity that puts televangelist Jimmy Swaggart to shame.

Many have had the misfortune of being cornered at a house party by a sandal-wearing startup CEO and told to pile into this specific cryptocurrency "right now or lose out on an opportunity of a lifetime". The same goes for the thousands of other cryptocurrencies that are growing in popularity around the world. The hemp- or linen-clad "CEO", whose company consists of himself and perhaps one other poor soul, will then proceed to bore you with graphic unasked-for details about his exercise and food regimens as you silently scream for mercy. 

While it would be considered at the very least precipitous – scratch that, downright foolish – to put all your life savings into one asset, let alone a single cryptocurrency basket, there is no denying that bitcoin and a select few of the other cryptocurrencies are here to stay. They are now beginning to entrench themselves, particularly in the world of financial transactions. So leaving the investment argument alone, there is clearly room for bitcoin when it comes to transacting. Paper money, with no link to the gold standard anymore, has no value other than the one we all agree it has. Bitcoin is no different in this regard.

The big difference was that it has not been subjected to any regulatory oversight. This is changing. Last month, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority said that it would treat crypto assets as financial assets. This means that those investing in them in SA will have the same protection as those investing in unit trusts, retirement funds, and other investment products.

If this doesn’t pave the way for crypto assets to join the mainstream, both as investments and a way to pay for goods, then nothing will.

This week, Pick n Pay, one of the country’s biggest retailers, said it was also piloting cryptocurrency payments in-store.

It has successfully completed the first phase of a new pilot, allowing customers to pay using cryptocurrency on their smartphones "using a trusted app", adding it is now testing it in more stores.

Pick n Pay also noted the FSCA’s recent announcement "paves the way for cryptocurrency as a mainstream method of payment", adding that "many companies are responding to this by accepting bitcoin".

In terms of its pilot, Pick n Pay tested a payment service technology that allows customers to buy groceries with cryptocurrency at till points with "any Bitcoin Lightning-enabled app such as BlueWallet or Muun", adding that the transaction is as "easy and secure as swiping a debit or credit card".

That a blue-chip JSE-listed retailer is entertaining this, is a good indication that it is just a matter of time before crypto transactions become completely mainstream, just like cellphone banking in recent years.

What is also very clear from Pick n Pay’s announcement is that bitcoin, as the oldest cryptocurrency and the one with the most goodwill, is likely to be the preferred cryptocurrency of choice going forward in South Africa. 

Just don’t acknowledge that when you next meet that startup "CEO" - or you’ll never hear the end of it.

The Dis-Chem dodge

Side-stepping on results day 

JSE watchers were on the lookout for Dis-Chem’s results on Wednesday – not only as its growing size (its market value has now reached almost R30 billion) commands attention, but also due to its recent newsworthiness. 

An internal memo, written by founder and CEO Ivan Saltzman, found its way on to social media and caused some consternation. Dis-Chem acknowledges the tone was off in its memo. Speaking about a moratorium on hiring whites probably needed a bit of careful wording. But the intention remains, as a potential fine of 10% of turnover for not hitting demographic targets is far too big a risk to ignore. If annualising Dis-Chem’s first half revenue for its 2023 year, that’s about R3.3 billion.

It was a risk ignored in the first half-results and presentation, though. But hey, maybe save the good stuff for the annual report.

Along with the results themselves, this set the stage for a most interesting question-and-answer session, but Dis-Chem didn’t deliver one.

Instead, the pharmacy group simply provided a pre-recorded results presentation that - after Saltzman had read his final bullet point - ended abruptly with a "thanks for listening".

Pity Dis-Chem doesn’t.

Results presentations are the opportunity, especially in person, for shareholders to put management’s feet to the fire, watch how they react, and maybe get some answers. Dis-Chem did provide an interview for News24, and others, and would of course engage with many of its shareholders on the day. Usually, the CEO would do these interviews. But the media was offered CFO Rui Morais – who, in fairness, is pegged to take up the CEO position next.

Ultimately, not publicly confronting the public mess is probably the right move. The news cycle is busy – very busy, actually, so why make your journey through the minefield you’ve stumbled into public?

In addition, why should Dis-Chem provide the platform for thrashing out contentious issues like how well strict equity laws are serving SA, the lack of transformation, or how transformation has been tainted by corruption? Especially as Eskom – where debate about such issues is heating up  – is emerging as a handy lightning rod.

Quote of the day

"The biggest source of inequality in South Africa is not that there are people who are paid too much and people who are paid too little. It's because we have got people who are paid and people who are paid zero, the unemployed."
Reserve Bank governor Lesetya Kganyago

Tweet of the day

Table of the day

Source: Charlie Bilello

Number of the day


Percentage of South Africans who experienced one or more disputes in 2021/22, compared to only 11.8% in 2018/2019, according to a Statistics SA survey. The disputes include poor service from government and business, conflict with neighbours, corruption, bribes, money owed to you or by you, domestic violence, unfair employment practice, and conflict related to marriage or partnership. KwaZulu-Natal (29.4%) had the highest instance of disputes.

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News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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