Illustration: Colin Daniel

Research into the sentiments of bank consumers released this week shows that “banks are not winning the battle for the hearts of consumers”.

Thami Bolani, chairman of the National Consumer Forum (NCF), says: “There is a lot of anger among consumers about the way they are treated by banks and the fees they are charged for what is now widely considered a grudge purchase.

“As the NCF, we are amazed, not to mention disappointed, that the banks seem to take so little notice of this growing perception among consumers.”

The research – a study of consumer perceptions released this week – was commissioned by Capitec Bank. It was based on responses from 725 South Africans countrywide who were invited to “re-imagine banking”.

The study found that only 39 percent of consumers are happy with their bank and 56 percent say that if the Finance Minister could change one thing in 2012, they would ask for bank charges to be slashed.

Comments from respondents included: “Don’t take me for granted”, “My time is worth money too”, “I need help understanding my account and how to manage my money”, “I want to deal with a person at a call centre, not a machine”, and “Treat customers like you need their business”.

The study also found that 46 percent of respondents are frustrated with fees and tricky literature but won’t change banks. Forty-three percent say it is impossible to understand fees; 37 percent have tried to compare costs but gave up; and 15 percent are looking for a new bank but feel it’s too time consuming to change.

When asked why they bank, 52.5 percent of respondents say “because it keeps my money safe”. Only eight percent say they bank to keep control of their spending. Yet while the perceived role of a bank is to protect a client’s cash, 24 percent say banking is tailored to their bank’s needs, not theirs. A further 47 percent say their bank is milking them.

“Banking is the necessary evil of earning money. It’s a system that has been designed that way,” says one respondent. He says if he was his bank’s manager for a day, he would go out of his way to help clients understand what makes banking so difficult, and why it is necessary.

Charl Nel, head of strategic communications at Capitec, says that banks are businesses and need to make a profit, “but clients shouldn’t have to absorb the overheads through high fees. Instead, processes and administration should be automated to reduce manpower as far as possible, in turn reducing cost to company.”

The study also found that technological innovation has had an unexpected spin-off: banking has become faceless and impersonal.

Bolani says Capitec’s findings suggest that those people without computers and internet access are bearing the brunt of banking costs. “They are having to stand in queues for their banking services, and are charged over the odds for a simple thing like cashing a cheque or depositing cash.”

He says: “The authority, expertise and experience of staff at branch level seems to be dropping all the time, eroding the intimate relationship on which great brands are supposed to be built.”

The study also gave consumers an opportunity to speak up and to be heard.

“A smart brand listens, reinterprets what it hears and presents its customers with a solution that meets their needs.

“Our view is that the underlying yearning (of consumers) is for better control of their financial lives. If we reinterpret this correctly, we will provide consumers with a better solution to everyday banking.”

This week financial product comparison website Thinkmoney ( also released research revealing that consumers rate smaller banks – Capitec and African Bank – higher than the Big Four: Absa, First National Bank, Nedbank and Standard Bank.

Gareth Mountain, chief executive officer of Thinkmoney, says the findings are based on product reviews by Thinkmoney subscribers over the past three years.

The reviews, based on a variety of criteria – such as integrity, value for money and flexibility – show growing consumer confidence in the smaller banks.

“Out of 5 763 subscribers who have left a review of their bank, 564 reviews were for Capitec and 87 percent of those were willing to recommend the product to others.”

Thinkmoney subscribers gave Capitec’s Global One account a four-star rating out of five. “Subscribers love that it has low bank charges, excellent service and internet banking that is quick and simple to use.”

Mountain says that out of the 2 042 subscribers who have left reviews regarding personal loans, 808 reviews were for African Bank’s products. (African Bank is a specialist credit bank, offering unsecured loans and credit cards only.)

Sixty-two percent of those subscribers gave the bank’s personal loan a four-star rating out of five. “Subscribers highlighted the low interest rate, flexible instalments and quick pay-out process,” he says.

Mountain says Thinkmoney’s research doesn’t necessarily show that subscribers are switching banks; it shows they are using and recommending the products offered by smaller banks.


Before you hotfoot it to a smaller bank or a rival bank, make sure you’ve done your homework and have a clear understanding of what you need from a bank. This would be determined by the way that you bank.

For example, your use of electronic channels or your reliance on cash may be a factor. You need to know that the smaller bank’s products and services will be able to meet your needs.

When considering another bank’s offering, don’t look at its savings rates only and neglect to find out about its lending rates.