by Adam Hartman
ALTHOUGH digital banking was introduced some time ago, the concept is getting a boost with the onset of Covid-19, as self-isolation and social distancing are forcing people to consider new ways of doing business.
Namibia has three confirmed cases of the virus which is spread through contact from one infected person to another, and has no known cure.
President Hage Geingob last week declared a state of emergency after the first two positive cases were identified.
This has resulted in measures that are dominated by exercising hygiene, restricted movement and maintaining safe social distances.
Mario Poolman of Nedbank told The Namibian last week that money and ATMs are “high-touch items” (and money, especially, does bring with it some hygienic considerations).
“The less cash one uses the safer you will be,” he said.
Isack Hamata of Standard Bank Namibia told this newspaper that to protect its clients, the bank had advised clients to make use of digital channels to minimise visits to the branches which may expose them to risks of being infected with the virus.
Electronic and internet banking services include payments to third parties, inter-account transfers, purchasing of electricity and cellular airtime, balance enquiries, and viewing statements.
There is also customer contact centres that can answer people’s queries, and help them with their banking or help sign up for new products and services. These platforms allow clients the convenience of transacting anywhere, anytime from their mobile phones, tablets or computers.
“We hope that as a bank, our digital channels will be a viable alternative during this time as we adhere to directives to limit our movements and minimise non-essential gatherings,” Hamata said.
Poolman added that social distancing has been proven to be one of the more effective ways to contain the spread of Covid-19, and Nedbank had also advised clients to use its various digital platforms as an alternative to actual visits to the bank.
“At this stage there certainly is no noticeable impact just yet, but we are actively monitoring this with the usual increased month-end activity, when volumes are traditionally high. This may well be followed by more overt or above-the-line marketing communications in due course,” he said, adding that many traditional banking customers and some businesses are very reliant on keeping their money safe in a bank and making withdrawals over the counter.
It is for these people that a change in behaviour will be challenging even if they are concerned about Covid-19.
“With more tech savvy customers, and those that fall on the borderline between tech savvy and traditional, concerns over Covid-19 may push them to start making more use of electronic channels,” he explained.
Elzita Beukes of FNB Namibia said digital transactions should be considered for health reasons and also for the cost-saving this delivers for customers.
She said it was too early to say whether the virus has changed banking behaviours, and that considerable efforts have gone into promoting the use of digital channels and even the use of alternative cash withdrawal channels.
Beukes said, in light of social distancing, health and safety of customers and staff is a priority.
Bank Windhoek’s Jacquiline Pack said the government’s action to implement social distancing during this time is commendable, and adopting the use of digital banking channels is an additional measure to limit exposure to the virus.
“Our message is to keep taking control of your finances and enjoying the convenience of digital channels. Although our branches remain open for business, we strongly encourage our customers to make use of our electronic service channels,” she told The Namibian.
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