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Gadget of the Week: Capitec selfie app

In our Gadget of the Week slot, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK asks six key questions of the new Capitec selfie app

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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

What is it?

A new take on banking apps, which uses your face and ID card to validate your existence, and never requires you to visit a branch or other physical outlet.

How much is it?

No cost for opening an account or having a debit card issued.

Why should you care?

Standing in bank queues to open accounts are about to become a relic of yesteryear. As more consumers use apps on their cellphones to make payments and to manage their bank accounts, bank branches will begin to disappear. That has already been the case with the traditional leaders in banking, like FNB and Standard Bank, but Capitec bucked the trend by opening new branches at a rapid rate as it took over the lower end of the market in recent times. In the process, it gained 4,2-million customers over the past two years, making it far and away South Africa’s biggest bank in terms of customer numbers – standing at 15.8-million at the end of February 2021.

Now, it has launched an app that indicates it intends to make two major shifts. First, the app allows one to open a series of accounts without physical contact with a branch, suggesting that Capitec is also preparing for a branchless future. Secondly, the app works on both iPhone and Android, so any modern smartphone user can create an account from their device. By punting the iPhone option, it makes it clear that it has moved out of the lower end of the market.

Capitec is not the first to allow an account to be opened by selfie – FNB launched a similar service exactly three years ago. However, it is a sign that the country’s largest customer-carrying bank is planning to expand into a space “owned” by the incumbents.

What are the biggest Positives?

It is fully compliant with all financial regulations, requiring one to “enroll” one’s face, link that to an identity document, and then use facial recognition to “sign” a series of documents that would usually have to be done in a bank.

It allows one to set up a “virtual card”, which is a debit card that can be used without ever having to have a physical card in one’s possession. Physical cards can, however, be collected at a branch.

Once one has signed up, fingerprints can also be “enrolled” for future logging in.

A “widget” on the app, called EasyEquities, allows one to buy and sell shares, at one of the country’s lowest brokerage fee structures. A demo account allows one to practice before diving in. The lower limit for investing is a mere R5.

Transactions are categorised so one can manage spending more effectively.

What are the biggest Negatives?

The facial “enrolment” is incredibly sensitive, and requires both the right light – not bright, and not too dark – and the right movements of the iPhone to capture the face just right. It took us about half a dozen attempts.

It requires facial recognition for signing each of three electronic documents displayed in the app. If it was tough the first time round, it could be tough another three times over. However, that is still easier than getting to a bank branch and standing in line.

What else should I know?

The iPhone option may not be inconsistent with Capitec’s low-cost image. However, despite the image of iPhones as high-end only, the entry-level iPhone SE now costs the same as a quality mid-range phone – from around R9,000 upward for a 64GB edition. Reconditioned units are available from around R2,400 at various outlets.

* Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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