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Banking moves to the cellphone

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After a cautious beginning a few years ago, cellphone banking is starting to deliver on its promise of allowing users to transact anywhere they go – and last week Absa Bank reached a milestone half-a-million cellphone banking customers. 

Absa’s managing executive for digital channels, Christo Vrey, says that with 38-million cellular subscribers nationwide, there is a great opportunity for the mobile channel to become the primary banking interface for many South Africans.
“People are generally becoming comfortable with the idea of using one’s cellphone to do their banking; and they are realising the unprecedented convenience of the service,” he notes.
The rapid adoption of SMS notification services for transactions and balance enquiries has helped familiarise people with the concept of cellphones as a financial services tool, boosting full-service cellphone banking registrations, he adds.
Absa currently processes more than R7-billion in annual transaction values through the mobile channel, comprising mostly account payments and prepaid airtime top-ups. By the end of 2008, Vrey expects to have 800 000 cellphone banking customers.
Absa's cellphone banking allows users to buy prepaid airtime, make account payments and inter-account transfers, view account balances and statements, request statements by fax or email, and send proof-of-payment notices to beneficiaries through various media.
The Bank offers two versions of cellphone banking: an SMS-based service that is available on all cellphones, and a WAP-based mobile internet version, available on higher-end cellphone handsets.
As the mobile phone evolves from a simple telephony device towards something of a ‘lifestyle complementer’ with a range of functions, Vrey envisions a cellphone banking service integrated with other mobile services – like music downloads, images and videos, virtual malls, event tickets, ringtones, and chatrooms.