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SA going cashless?

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In a country where 10.5 million people receive their SASSA grants via a cashless system and 70% of the population have accounts at financial institutions, is cash here to stay, asks CHAD FICHARDT, independent tech and finance communications specialist.

The way the world transacts is in transition. Physical cash and cards are morphing into a hybrid of mobile, digital and perhaps even crypto. This brings to the fore exciting commercial opportunity and challenge. Mostly, it offers the chance of financial inclusion.

At the recent Cashless Payments Summit, experts attempted to decipher where this transition is headed and what it means for South Africans.

The idea of going cashless, or replacing cash with digital money – largely enabled through seamless payment on our mobile devices – is being propelled into reality by governments and corporations who see the benefits.

In developed markets mobile payments are leapfrogging card and are well on their way to replacing cash. Singapore, the Netherlands, Sweden and France see almost 60% cashless transactions, according to figures from Mastercard.

The Central Bank of Nigeria is starting to drive ‘cashless’ because it sees the economic benefit. “Going cashless inevitably means you know more about your customers and trade starts to increase. Additionally, where relevant, the more you know about your customer the more you are willing to lend money, which, when done responsibly, leads to further capital available for them to invest and for the economy to grow,” says Anton Gaylard from Crossfin, a local technology investment company.

Cashless transactions are traceable and the amount of information available relating to a particular transaction gives rise to more opportunies for data management and personalisation. In the US, retailers are seeing a 10% uptake in sales from knowing your customer better.

According to Karen Nadasen, PayU South Africa CEO, getting cashless right will enable other trends, particularly in and around eCommerce. “eCommerce is often a barometer for how payment technology is progressing. It gives you an idea of where trust levels are at. As we see eCommerce steadily grow and give rise to better data collection and usage, we see richer opportunities to solve real problems like financial exclusion,” says Nadasen.

However, cash still prevails at the low end of the market. Commenting on the ‘stickiness’ of physical cash, the Centre for Financial Regulation and Inclusion’s Barry Cooper, observes that encashment, or the ability to access cash from other forms of money, will drive digital money uptake.

“You actually need more cash to take the step into digital. The current digital ecosystem is concentrated around economically active areas only and cash reticulation (the development of an accessible network) remains limited. Whereas cash is perceived to be free and universal. This leads to a disproportionate gravity towards the cash economy,” says Cooper.

It is evident that access to platforms, improved convenience and trust hold the key. From a technology provider perspective it’s all about driving the costs down. Interestingly, Cooper points out that the informal digital environment is sophisticated, more trusted than banks in informal markets and highly effective. Increasing trust in digital channels relies heavily on the reliability of the technology and the points of interaction with the real economy. This is something the informal market is getting right, according to Cooper.

At the other end of the spectrum, cashless technology is speeding things up at the point of sale for retailers. Speed through the checkout affects the bottom line directly, not to mention the added benefit of less queuing time and happier customers.

NFC technology, which allows you to tap your card for payment, has halved the time it takes to complete a traditional card payment in retail and reduced by a third the time it takes to do a traditional cash payment.

With mobile payments increasing at 23% year on year in South Africa, all eyes will be on eCommerce. “There is so much progress being made in the fintech and, to a lesser degree, eCommerce space at the moment that all point to a further penetration into cashless,” adds Nadasen. “Payment technology is going to have to move further in the background, or frictionless for mass uptake of cashless to be realised.”

It is peculiar that in a country where 10.5 million people receive their SASSA grants via a cashless system and roughly 70% of the population have accounts at financial institutions, that cash appears to be here to stay, for now.

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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