Many take South Africa’s ATM network for granted – simply insert a card and withdraw money. GAVIN REUBENSON, Group CIO, Paycorp, outlines what it actually takes to deliver cash to 17 million South Africans on the first of every month.
It starts very early in the morning on the first working day of every month: 17 million South Africans go to their nearest ATM to withdraw their government (SASSA) grant. It almost doesn’t matter what time you get there, you’ll find a queue of South Africans waiting for their turn at the ATM.
The image below shows the extent to which SASSA withdrawals on the 1st dwarfs those transactions done by other cardholders, and certainly dwarfs the peak that happens on the 25th of each month when the majority of South Africans get paid by their employers. The blue portion of the graph represents SASSA withdrawals; the orange is normal business.
The annual Finscope survey released in November last year reported that 34% of people – that’s 6.1m South African grant recipients – withdraw all their money on payment day every month regardless of the fact that they could withdraw it in small increments during the course of the month, or even use their SASSA cards as debit cards at point-of-sale.
It helps to understand that SASSA’s electronic payment system represents the first time many people have had access to any kind of banking system. We’re beginning to see a change in behaviour; we see more people withdrawing two or three times a month as they learn to trust electronic banking, although it has to be said that recent uncertainty regarding SASSA administration does have a knock-on effect.
Leaving that aside, these newly-banked customers are not the only ones who’ve had to adapt since the grant payment system went electronic in Q1, 2012.
As a company whose primary purpose is to connect people to their money and businesses to their customers, we rate service very highly so we don’t like to see long queues at our ATMs. Like everyone else, we’ve had to get used to it on SASSA payment day.
We’re much more concerned with ensuring that there will be enough cash for every SASSA cardholder at every one of our 5,500+ ATMs. Reliability is our number one priority – people need their cash, and we’re going to make sure they get it!
When SASSA first went electronic there was significant pressure on the national payment system which put strain on everyone, and we all had to adapt very quickly. At Paycorp we were quick to update and reconfigure our cash forecasting systems to ensure that we could service the increased withdrawal volumes and values.
Whilst Paycorp has always been about financial inclusion, moving government grants from cash to electronic through the SASSA card added a new dimension by helping to drive financial activity in remote communities. This is not just because more cash is being circulated. For merchants who have in-store ATMs, 30 – 40% of cash withdrawn from their ATM will be used in their store and therefore the money stays in the local community.
With every local ATM we install – and the majority of our installations are in rural and peri-urban areas – we know that we’re contributing to the local community’s reduction in travel time to access an ATM, which is now down to below 30 minutes. Seventeen years after deploying South Africa’s first independent ATM, nothing is more satisfying than seeing how the addition of an ATM makes life easier for individual South Africans, promotes business growth, and builds local economies.