Bank Zero plans midyear 'controlled launch'

26 April 2020 - 00:07 By NICK WILSON



The coronavirus lockdown has disrupted the way SA conducts business, but thanks to its "fintech" characteristics, new kid on the block Bank Zero, which is chaired by Michael Jordaan, is still eyeing a mid-2020 launch. "It is likely to be a controlled launch where we only allow a limited number of customers in, learn from their feedback to improve and then iterate with more newcomers," said Jordaan this week in response to questions from Business Times. "Techies call this a beta launch and it is the accepted norm in places like Silicon Valley. In this sense we are more a fintech than a traditional bank."Fintech, or finance technology, generally refers to technology that automates financial services or at least brings a lot of functions online so that customers can transact using computers or smartphones. The fast-growing fintech sector in SA has disrupted the financial services industry and influenced the offerings of traditional banks. Jordaan, who is a former First National Bank CEO and a nonexecutive director at data-only network operator Rain, could not yet confirm a month for the launch of Bank Zero, saying Covid-19 "does complicate matters as everyone is working from home".He said the bank is running tests on transactions, deposits and regulatory reporting.Bank Zero will enter a market where competition has intensified with a number of new entrants joining the sector, among them TymeBank, whose controlling shareholder is Patrice Motsepe's African Rainbow Capital (ARC), and Adrian Gore's Discovery Bank. Rain is also one of ARC's investments. Bank Zero, which will include business banking as a special focus area, is expected to disrupt the market even more but is keeping mum about its fee structure at this stage."We haven't announced our fees yet. We will only do so at launch, but the name is a hint for nearly anything electronic/digital and that includes card swipes," said Jordaan. He said it will specifically focus on the business sector for potential clients, as this is a "neglected segment".Jordaan said the "biggest coming battle in banking will be more internal than external as each legacy bank fights to rein in their own large cost base". Bank Zero is "really not focused on any competitor out there" but "rather the team is building a great mobile customer experience with a range of globally unique features"."So the focus is on customers, including businesses, not on competitors."With the pandemic changing the way people work and live, with at least some form of social distancing set to be the new normal, Jordaan said he expects to see more fintech players entering the market. "There will certainly be more fintech players, each focusing on a unique part of the overall financial ecosystem. Bank Zero hopes to be the payments partner for many such fintechs as we don't aspire to be everything for everyone. "For example, we don't want to be a lending bank, so we will need to help customers by originating loans to lenders who specialise in, say, home loans or business loans."He said that in some ways lockdowns around the world have sped up the digitisation of the corporate world. "Things like working from home and online education have made more progress in the last three weeks than in the preceding 30 years."

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