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JOHANNNESBURG - South Africa’s banks, which started the year on a sound footing, were expected to make greater use of digital platforms to ward off impending competition from new tech-savvy entrants.

The four major banks posted headline earnings of R76.1billion at December 31, 2017.

Johannes Grosskopf, Finan­cial Services Leader for PwC Africa, said 2018 has started with a revived sense of optimism and a faith that improving levels of business and consumer confidence can translate into meaningful economic gains.

“Throughout 2018, we can expect to see a continued focus on cost management and ongoing investment in infrastructure, people and IT systems,” Grosskopf said.

“We expect the banks will make greater use of ‘bots’ and artificial intelligence to make their operations more efficient and discover insights that can improve the end-to-end customer experience.”

The sentiment sensitive banking sector has basked in the Ramaphosa euphoria since his election first as ANC president and later as head of state. South Africa’s biggest bank by market capitalisation FirstRand's share price has strengthened 22.29percent in the last three months, while Standard Bank’s stock has risen 26.55percent in the same period.

Bottom line

Nedbank’s share price has surged 32.56percent in the last three months and Barclays Africa stock has added 20.62percent. The bank’s bottom line, however, looks set to be rattled by the imminent entrance of the Discovery Bank in the next few months. Discovery earlier this year said it plans to spend a total of R1.5billion in the build-up to the launch of its much-anticipated bank, set to start operating later this year.

The group said that it had already spent R1.2bn following the granting of its banking licence by the registrar of banks and the South African Reserve Bank last October.

The Patrice Motsepe backed TymeDigital will offer a full-service digital bank to customers. Interestingly, Tyme’s parent company, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, has a higher market cap than all big four SA banks put together.

Former FNB chief executive, Michael Jordaan, credited with transforming the bank into the most innovative one, has also announced his Bank Zero offering. The bank will be app-driven. Nedbank last month said it was spending about R2bn on technology investments and has launched Pepper, the first humanoid robot in the country at its digital-only branch at the Gautrain Station in Sandton.

FNB last week said that it will be redesigning its branches to balance the use of technology with a personalised service.

- BUSINESS REPORT