Remember the time when your bank manager wore a pinstripe suit and bowler hat, carried off with an umbrella and air of disdain. And the male managers were even worse?
Of course you don’t. You’re a young and funky digital type who does all your banking online, you crazy denim-wearing startup kid, you.
Get ready to go back into your bank branch, though, because ABSA has a plan to tempt you in by offering small business services like 3D printing in a new generation of concept store.
According to ABSA’s Marius de la Rey, the first branch-cum-makerspace will open its doors either late this year or early next and will be in Joburg’s Aukland Park or Rosebank. It’s part of a strategy to keep the bank’s physical presence in the world relevant as more of its customers migrate online and will be an experiment in seeing what sort of services small businesses need in order to thrive.
“As functions of [physical] banks move out then we can do other things in that space,” de la Rey says, “The banking system is supposed to provide the wheels for society to work. We want to make this place look cool for what you have to do in branch while we move more of those functions out.”
A place to prototype products while arranging for a business loan could be a new way to attract innovative startups to bank with ABSA. The firm’s current parent company, Barclays, has been experimenting with similar ideas in the UK.
De la Ray says that while there will inevitably be some branch closures in the future as customers go online, ABSA will set itself aside from rivals by continuing to focus on physical infrastructure.
“I take my lead from the fact that I come from retail background,” says de la Rey, “and there are companies in Europe like John Lewis who have got to 50% of customers shopping online by using physical services like ‘click and collect’.”
Already, several flagship stores such as Mall of Africa and the V&A Waterfront have been redesigned using a modular system which de la Ray says is to make those transactions that have to be done in branch – like on-boarding – less arduous. They include fusball tables and arcade machines to entertain kids queuing with parents on a Saturday afternoon.
ABSA is also sensitive to the fact that customers have limited time available to conduct face-to-face banking.
“The regulatory processes require us to do a lot of things that are not necessarily pleasant,” de la Ray says.”We’re trying to make that experience as positive as positive.”
For employees, de la Rey says it’s about removing the “non-empathetic” parts of their jobs, sitting behind a desk as a teller, and giving them an environment and the technology to interact with customers in a different way.
When it comes to creating services and branches specifically for servicing small businesses, like the concept store currently being developed, ABSA is able to draw on its experience of running the Barclays RISE fintech accelerators. The first in Africa opened in Cape Town, and has incubated startups working in diverse areas such as using drones to verify land registry documents on Ghana and banking services for church organisations.