South African banks love to promote their tech credentials. They’ll incorporate any awards they win for innovation or tech integration into their marketing materials and race each other to introduce new app features.

By Harry Scherzer, CEO of FutureForex

For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with that. South African banks have embraced new technologies much quicker than their traditional developed-world counterparts (although newer players such as Revolut and Monzo have stolen a march on them in recent years).

Despite this general embrace of tech, there are some notable areas where South African banks fall short. International money transfers are one of the most glaring areas of concern regarding banking tech. Far too many South African banks are stuck using outdated technologies for these kinds of transactions. In some parts of the process, they barely seem to have adopted technology at all.

This technological lag is to the detriment of businesses and individual customers alike. Not only does it mean they face unnecessary delays on transactions, but it also means that the overall experience can be incredibly frustrating and can even cost more than it should.

Failing to embrace automation

One area where this technological lag is particularly obvious is automation. Given how many of our daily banking interactions are automated, it might be surprising to learn how little focus has been put into automating international money transfers.

Anyone wanting to make an international money transfer will likely have to download forms, fill them out manually, and either drop them off at the bank or email them back. From there, someone at the bank will have to manually input the details from the form into the bank’s system. It’s incredibly inefficient, and unnecessarily so.

The bank is also unlikely to help with things like SARS and Reserve Bank approvals or BoP codes, meaning that customers will have to, again manually, sort those things out themselves. It’s a lot of effort to go through before sending a single rand offshore.

It won’t be the end of your lack of automation frustration, either. At every step of the process, you’ll likely face similar shortcomings, leading to a poor experience and delays on an urgent transaction at worst.

Flaws in human-tech interaction

That frustration brings me to another area where local banks fall short: embracing technology while ensuring customers still feel the human touch. If you struggle at any part of the process, you’ll most likely experience this failure.

There’s very little chance that the bank’s digital channels will be of any real help, meaning that you have to pick up the phone. Once you do, you’ll be pushed from pillar to post because most banks now staff their contact centres with agents rather than bankers with actual expertise.

There are also complexities, such as AIT Approvals, and submitting the correct BoP codes, that tech can’t solve and where hands-on expert assistance is needed. And for smaller clients, especially, banks just can’t be bothered to provide that kind of help.

Embracing the alternative

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Rather than using their bank for their international money transfer needs, individuals and SMEs should seek out independent specialists. More particularly, they should look for specialist companies that embrace automation while prioritising the customer experience.

That means using companies that marry their technological expertise with dedicated, expert Account Managers who can assist customers on whichever channel they’re most comfortable with at that time. Work with a company that gets it right, and international money transfers suddenly stop being a tortuous exercise and become fast, easy, and painless.