Absa uses banking technology to expand financial inclusion for a greater savings pool with over 4-million cell phone banking customers of which half are entry level banking customers.
As principal sponsor of the 6th African Microfinance Conference taking place at the International Convention Centre in Durban this week, banking group Absa points out that financial inclusion is fundamental to lifting savings rates to ensure healthy economic development across Africa.

To build a robust, sustained savings culture, Arrie Rautenbach, head of the bank’s retail division, believes that part of the solution rests in a targeted, sustained financial literacy programme and discussions aimed at shifting mindsets, enabling the continent to save for a goal.

“With Barclays Africa footprint, Absa strives to cultivate better ways to provide access to the under and unbanked market. This conference provides an ideal platform through which industry leaders across the continent can engage on innovative methods to best serve these markets,” says Rautenbach.

He adds: “As a bank, this means we can focus on new business models aimed at expanding financial inclusion that will in turn increase the number of savers and banked consumers and enable people that previously didn’t have access to banking services to be full participants in their country’s economic growth story.”

Leveraging technology such as mobile and prepaid, Absa customers have the option and convenience of opening accounts remotely through an innovative application for data enabled smartphones and tablet devices. This means new customers can open an account and get a debit card in less than 10 minutes, from anywhere, anytime.

Absa has over 4-million cell phone banking customers of which half are entry level banking customers. Absa’s money transfer service, CashSend, has processed more than R1-billion transactions, mainly to rural areas in South Africa.

To service the disconnected rural masses, Absa pioneered Cellphone Banking Lite which allows Absa and Vodacom customers to perform a host of transactions from their mobile handsets – even if they have no airtime.

More recently Absa is taking banking to the people especially in disadvantaged areas. The bank embarked on its first operational trial of a Branch-on-the-Move in the Eastern Cape, while the bank’s In-Store Banking service was able to provide a cash-in service for basic transactions to the customer’s doorstep.

“We have also installed a vast number of ATMs that accept cash and other deposits at our branches. We hope this will encourage people to save and utilise these more cost effective channels. We believe these initiatives make for a safer and more secure experience and that they replace the inefficiencies of cash in the under and unbanked markets,” says Rautenbach.

“To ensure appropriate and relevant products and services are continuously being enhanced and developed for the under and unbanked, Absa is taking a three pronged approach; to continuously develop product and services that are relevant for the inclusive banking customer, develop more efficient and accessible channels for our customers to be able to interact with us, while empowering customers to make better financial choices,” Rautenbach concludes.

The Bi-annual African Microfinance Conference is a major event where supporters of financial inclusion in Africa gather to discuss important issues related to inclusive finance.