Thanks to creative innovations, the world of banking is increasingly dynamic. With new services and features being introduced all the time, it’s easy to fall out of step with enhancements to your bank’s offering. Personal Finance asked the five major banks what makes them great. This is what your bank had to say, and what its competitors have been up to.

ABSA

1. Absa ChatBanking on Twitter and Facebook Messenger

Absa customers can now use Twitter and Facebook Messenger to:

• Get the actual and available balances on their transaction account;

• Buy airtime or data for the cellphone registered to their account;

• Get a mini-statement showing the last few transactions on their account;

• Buy prepaid electricity in selected municipalities; and

• Make a payment to a beneficiary they have paid at least once before. There’s a daily payment limit.

Any Absa customer who is registered for online banking can register for ChatBanking. Your personal information is protected and your account number and personal details are never displayed in a chat. This means that even in the event of your cellphone being stolen or someone gaining access to your social media account, they would not be able to abuse the information.

2. Absa’s new-look banking app and website

You don’t need data to use Absa’s updated banking app, which means you can view your balances, buy airtime and make payments even if you have run out of data. You can personalise the app with a profile picture. Logging-in requires nothing more than a five-digit PIN, or your fingerprint, if you have a newer-model iPhone.

The bank’s website has undergone more than just a make-over, Craig Bond, the chief executive of retail and business banking at Absa, says. “While the design is sleeker and the navigation is smoother, functionality has also improved, so that customers can now reverse unauthorised debit orders online and upload Fica documents.”

3. MegaU Youth Account

Absa believes in the importance of teaching children about the value of money and how to manage it. To this end, the bank has reviewed and adjusted its youth proposition, not only from a pricing perspective, but also from a value perspective, Bond says.

“In addition to not having to pay monthly fees or fees for day-to-day transactions, our youth customers qualify for a free movie ticket every month, as well as 75MB of free data bundles when using Absa’s channels to purchase data.

Absa’s MegaU Youth Account includes the following:

• No monthly service fee;

• No fees for Absa ATM withdrawals or balance enquiries;

• No fees for point-of-sale (POS) purchases;

• No fees for a monthly eStatement;

• Free NotifyMe messages;

• No fees for balance enquiries and transaction history if done via online and mobile banking;

• No fees for pre-paid top-up at an Absa ATM or POS;

• Free stop-order/recurring payments/scheduled payments so that parents can transfer pocket money into the account without incurring charges;

• Free inter-account transfers

• No charge for over-the counter cash deposits in a branch on amounts of less than R500. Standard fees apply to the entire amount if it is R500 or above.

• No charge for deposits at the ATM: The first R500 deposit is free of charge and thereafter a charge of R1.30 per R100 applies.

4. New-look branches

Although it was predicted that bank branches would become obsolete in an on-screen, digitised society, the reality is that many full-service branches are not closing but evolving to meet changing customer needs, Bond says.

“At Absa, we believe that online and mobile banking won’t replace the physical outlet – it will merely enable it to evolve.

“We have thus built agility and flexibility into our new-look branches to help us engage customers. All the furniture and engagement spaces are mobile and can be moved around overnight if required, enabling us to respond to customer needs quickly and proactively.”

Queue benches are replacing rails to ensure that our customers are comfortable when they visit the bank.

5. ReadytoWork

The ReadytoWork initiative is in line with Absa’s business philosophy of shared growth. “A business can only be successful if it connects positively with and creates value in the society in which it operates. When the communities where we live and work thrive, we do too.”

Lack of access to employment opportunities is a problem in many communities. ReadytoWork aims to address this by helping prepare young people for the transition from education into the world of work.

“Its primary aim is to improve the employment prospects of young people and to empower them, through educational resources, online content, face-to-face learning, workshops and work experience, to better equip them to find work or start their own business.”

CAPITEC

1. Value for money

“About 3.5 million clients pay less than R50 a month for all their banking, which includes free access to the cellphone banking app, four additional savings accounts for free, and interest on your balances from day one,” Francois Viviers, the executive of marketing and corporate affairs at Capitec Bank, says. “A lot of these clients earn more interest than they pay in bank fees on a monthly basis, which means they don’t pay to bank, but get paid to bank with us.”

2. Simplified banking

“Why should banking be so complicated? Everything we do is designed to make banking simpler for our clients so that they can spend their time and energy on the other things that are important in their lives. We have pioneered this by offering one single banking solution, the Global One account, which meets the needs of most South Africans, instead of different types of accounts all with different fees and terms attached.

“We have also taken away all paperwork in the branches, which means you can open an account or get a loan in minutes and have the account or credit available immediately.”

3. Transparency

“We honestly believe in doing what is in the best interests of our clients. For that reason everything we do is designed to be transparent so that our clients always know what they get, and know what they pay.”

4. Sunday banking

“We pioneered Sunday trading and currently have 270 branches that are open seven days a week. If you can do your grocery shopping on a Sunday, then why not your banking?”

5. Biometric security

Capitec Bank pioneered biometric security in the form of fingerprint verification and photographic identification for bank transacting, and is the only bank in South Africa that has all its customers’ fingerprint details captured in its database.

FIRST NATIONAL BANK (FNB)

1. FNB banking app

Ranked South Africa’s best banking app this year in the South African Customer Satisfaction Index Survey and in the Columinate Internet Banking SITEisfaction Survey, FNB’s app is being used on more than two million active devices. It boasts features such as “geopayments”, a location-based person-to-person payment system that enables you to find and pay other app users without having their banking details.

The app also enables cardless cash withdrawals, in the event of you misplacing or losing your bank card. You tell the app how much you want to draw and it generates a temporary one-time-only PIN that you use at an ATM.

Another feature is electronic gift vouchers, which you buy using the app and send to another app user, who can store the voucher on his or her app. To redeem a voucher, you present the voucher code to the cashier at the point of sale.

2. FNB smartphone

To help enable customers to do their banking anywhere, anytime, FNB offers branded smartphones for as little as R59 a month – with some free airtime and data included.

The entry-level phone, which costs R59 a month for 24 months, is called a ConeXis A1 and is aimed at the price-sensitive Easy bank account-holder. A more high-spec phone, the ConeXis X1, is aimed at customers on upmarket accounts, such as Premier and Private Client, and costs R150 a month (for 24 months) and includes 25 minutes’ airtime and 100MB of data.

The bank offers rebates of up to 100 percent on the X1 instalments, depending on the customer’s eBucks Rewards level.

FNB’s app is preloaded on both phones, and your data costs are zero-rated when using the app and when banking online.

3. FNB Connect

FNB Connect is the bank’s mobile offering. Although not a fully-fledged mobile network operator (it uses Cell C’s network), Connect sells contract and pre-paid packages and the cheapest data, according to the bank. Launched in June last year, Connect has more than 400 000 active subscribers.

Connect subscribers can monitor their mobile spend via their banking app, online banking profile and cellphone banking, and subscribers using FNB’s app can make free internet-based calls to other app users and to FNB’s call centre.

4. FNB Life (funeral cover)

FNB customers can buy funeral cover from FNB Life at an ATM, via cellphone banking or online. In a bid to broaden access to funeral cover, which many people regard as a must-have, the bank has made its product available on multiple digital platforms. In doing so, FNB scooped a global award at this year’s Efma and Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards.

In addition to simplifying take up, FNB Life has also simplified the claims process by directly verifying claims through the National Population Registry. This means claimants are no longer required to submit a death certificate, only the notification-of-death form.

5. Branch network

The bank says its branch network is cool, because 139 branches have wi-fi capability.

FNB has also recently introduced a new mobile banking unit designed to extend banking services to customers in rural communities. The mobile bank is a modified shipping container equipped with an ATM and teller services.

NEDBANK

1. Nedbank MasterPass

Whether you’re shopping online or in a store, the Nedbank MasterPass app allows you to make secure payments using your smartphone. You download and instal the app on your phone before loading your card information into the app, where it is securely stored and encrypted. You can then make purchases using the app. Masterpass works by scanning a quick response code linked to a merchant account.

2. Contactless cards

Contactless cards, which use near-field communication technology, enable you to make small purchases by merely tapping your card on a point-of-sale terminal that is enabled to accept these. Although not new, these cards are relatively new in South Africa, where consumers are still used to paying with chip and PIN, Chris Wood, the executive head of emerging payments, strategy and regulatory at Nedbank, says. The bank has begun distributing these cards to customers in the “retail relationship” and professional segments, because they are inclined to adopt the technology first.

3. Nedbank’s revamped website

The bank’s revamped website provides clients with convenient access to banking information, product pages, and forms to do business, Wood says. The interface and navigation is simple, targeted and easy to use. Usability of the site is consistent across different devices, from desktops to smartphones.

4. Nedbank’s app

The Nedbank App gives clients access to full-service banking from the comfort of their home, office or holiday destination, Wood says. As well as providing access to a wide range of transactional capabilities, such as making once-off payments, adding beneficiaries and buying prepaid airtime, you can also access your share or unit trust portfolio, or get quotes for motor or household insurance, via the app.

5. Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab

The Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab is a business incubator, which was launched in May last year. It provides “bleeding edge” facilities to start-up and incubation-phase companies in the Western Cape. Since inception, the lab has incubated over 40 companies.

STANDARD BANK

1. Instant messaging via WeChat and Facebook Messenger

In an endeavour to provide an unmatched level of personal service, Standard Bank offers an instant messaging service – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – to Private and Prestige customers. “This enables us to support our customers in all banking circumstances, any time of the day, anywhere they are. Instant messaging volumes around the world have surpassed SMS usage and are continuing to grow. Within a few years, it will probably overtake many of today’s key communication mediums, and Standard Bank plans to be at the forefront of this technology trend,” Vuyo Mpako, the head of digital channels and eCommerce at Standard Bank, says.

2. Kidz Banking app

The soon-to-be-launched Standard Bank Kidz Banking app is a first-of-its kind smartphone and tablet app: a game-like, vividly animated banking app designed for children between the ages of six and 11. Engaging and entertaining, the app guides users on money-management concepts such as earning, saving and spending. Integration into the parent’s banking app gives an adult ultimate control over the transactions that the child user can make.

3. Banking app

Standard Bank’s app includes biometric identification, and with the most recent updates, customers can now:

• Make global payments via their smartphone – functionality which represents the ultimate in flexibility and convenience by providing customers in any region who would previously have had to visit a branch and complete vast amounts of paperwork, with instant access to, and absolute control over, their entire financial portfolio. They can make payments to individual recipients in almost 200 countries from the convenience of their smartphone.

• Adjust daily and monthly ATM limits.

• Remotely turn cards on and off, and control where (in which countries) and when the card may be used.

• Submit homeowner’s insurance claims via the app – with the ability to upload photographs when lodging a claim.

4. Shepherd

Shepherd was launched to provide a secure and seamless online purchasing experience. Powered by Standard Bank and in partnership with RAM Couriers, Shepherd holds payments for online purchases in a trust, delivers the goods from the seller to the prospective buyer, and only when all parties are satisfied that the terms of the deal have been met is the money released to the seller, thus greatly reducing the risk of fraud and scams.

5. SnapScan

This is an app that enables you to make payments with your cellphone. Paying by SnapScan is not only safer than carrying cash, it’s also convenient (less to carry; it doesn’t cost you anything but a little data).

A collaboration between FireID and Standard Bank, SnapScan is constantly finding ways to make the payment process even simpler and easier, Mpako says. For example, instead of using your phone’s camera to scan the merchant’s code when making a payment, you can now simply click “Pay here” in the app to initiate the transaction. This is thanks to the use of Bluetooth-enabled beacons, which detect your location.