How Absa Bank plans to dominate digital banking in South Africa – and beyond

By all measure, banking in its most basic sense is not unique. What makes it unique is the way customers feel about banking. And this is Absa’s ultimate weapon.

Absa prides itself as a banking institution that inspects inspect every available data point to determine the best digital solution for its customers. Every tech deployment contains features that are created through futurism, market disruption, digital thought leadership and most importantly, direct feedback from our customers. Some of the few notable initiatives that the bank launched recently include:

ID&V on Web. Absa was the first bank to perform a new account opening from its website. This capability allows customers to open an account by taking a selfie, which is then compared to their Identity Document at the South African Department of Home Affairs for instant identification and verification.

ChatBanking (Securely bank via WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook). Launched in 2018 as part of its social media banking, this world-first allows customers to use WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to buy mobile airtime and data, buy pre-paid electricity, pay beneficiaries or just quickly glance at their account balances. This effortless banking channel is available to all customers who have registered for the service, and they simply need to text “Hi”, and Absa will do the rest through Absa’s comprehensive menu offerings. Absa customers can also perform instant transactions using the bank’s ChatBanking service, available on Facebook Messenger, Twitter and now WhatsApp.

Abby. Absa’s AI learning bot is a virtual assistant that assists with the fulfilment of transactions for all App customers. Abby uses artificial intelligence to personalize the customers’ banking experience, proactively recommending products and services and securely performing transactions for customers.

Absa Biometric ID. This is an initiative where customers can transact securely with the highest level of biometric certification. This means that your face is, in fact, your password. This initiative is linked to the Absa Banking systems and works across all channels. Banking safety and security is a top priority for the Bank and a top concern for customers. With this initiative, your biometric becomes your instant key to your safe.

Fraud Warranty. Absa is continuing to invest in mitigation systems to make customers’ banking experience more secure. As such, Absa has introduced a market-leading feature called “Fraud Warranty”, a mechanism where Absa backs up any digital fraud claims with a warranty.

Internal AWS Cloud Incubator. In collaboration with Amazon Web Service (AWS), Absa has launched an internal cloud incubator initiative that empowers employees with cloud platform skills. This helps equip employees with the skills to better serve customers in a digital world. With this initiative, Absa has become the first organization in the African continent to become a member of the Amazon Web Service Skills Guild.

By any measure, Absa is a clear winner in its field and continues to dominate in markets where it operates. Adding feather in its cap is Absa’s recent awards as Winner, Best Digital Bank – South Africa and Highly Acclaimed, Outstanding Interactive Chatbot Service by a Retail Bank at the recent Global Retail Banking Innovation Awards 2021 organised by The Digital Banker.

“The need for different strategies around innovation and digital banking was apparent in banking well before the pandemic hit. Absa worked tirelessly to be at the forefront of these changes and provide best in class services in the South African market and beyond. Absa has set out to enhance its entire digital ecosystem in terms of design, features, security and overall experience. Simply put, Absa is today’s best digital bank in South Africa and a very strong contender globally,” said Nirav Patel, Managing Director at The Digital Banker during the awards ceremony.

Thriving Amidst the Pandemic

When Absa formulated its digital strategy – well ahead of the pandemic – it placed a strong emphasis on customers and how it can serve them digitally. When the pandemic hits, it inspired the team to speed up its digital engagement globally. This was evident with Absa recording a 26% year-on-year increase of activity on its digital platforms in 2020.

This signalled that the team is ready. To maintain customer connections during the darkest period of the crisis, the Bank had to rely on digital services to make customer connections personal and relevant. The pandemic afforded the opportunity to prove its digital functionality and customer-centricity by responding to the way consumer behaviour has been affected by the pandemic. It provided an indicator of behaviour changes and created an opportunity for Absa to best respond to its customers in a manner that fits its overall digital strategy.

The effort proved to be a success. In 2020, Absa was awarded for being the bank in South Africa with the least number of Ombudsman Complaints, showing a 36% year-on-year improvement. Moving from the highest number of disputes a few years ago, to having the fewest disputes amongst the Big Five banks, marked a remarkable turnaround for Absa.


“From 2021 to date, Absa’s 4.45 million digitally active customers have performed more than 1.7 billion digital transactions to the value of ZAR 1.5 trillion, resulting in ZAR 899 million in revenue across its digital channels.”


During the panic-ridden period of COVID-19, customers were also concerned about how they would pay their bills should they have a loss of income. Absa swiftly formulated a project called “Siyasizana” (A Zulu phrase meaning “the action of helping each other”) and the Absa Relief Fund partnership which aided customers and allayed fears of not being able to make their payments.

In 2021, the country faced another challenge, where civil unrests were reported in parts of the country. Once again, Absa was ready with Bespoke Financial Solutions and Siyasizana 2.0, aiding and assisting businesses and individuals to make credit arrangements with their bank and garner relief funding. These initiatives could be accessed through a seamless online application.

But more than thriving, what fuels Absa’s passion is its heart for customer service. Right at the onset, Absa embraced how evolving consumer behaviours were driving change and created digital tools and platforms that added relevance and personality into each interaction. The Bank even had the foresight to anticipate – through data – where customers could have difficulty performing more complex transactions and built robust and interactive FAQs and contextual help on multiple features across multiple digital banking platforms.

The team wanted to make sure that, while customers were turning to digital banking channels, its solutions were not overly complicated. They also ensured that customers using remote channels had a positive experience both during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Absa has spent years building solutions with staying power, and it knows that these would change the way customers see the future of banking.

Success by the Numbers

From 2021 to date, Absa’s 4.45 million digitally active customers have performed more than 1.7 billion digital transactions to the value of ZAR 1.5 trillion, resulting in ZAR 899 million in revenue across its digital channels.

Staying competitive is crucial. Increasing digitalization will go a long way in retaining and attracting customers. There is also an opportunity to attract the next, rising generation of Absa customers. Absa’s new digital registrations are growing at 14% per month, up 23% in a year-on-year comparison. The Bank currently has a digital customer base of 4.45 million, which includes customers who opt to actively use its Banking App, Online Banking, USSD, ChatBanking and NotifyMe digital alerts service.

In addition, Absa takes fraud prevention seriously. Having secure digital platforms prevent fraud losses. Building compliance layers into its technical rails ensure that the Bank complies with local and international regulatory requirements.

Through its digital banking journey, Absa has established technology rails that will have long-lasting benefits. Its digital platforms can link with the government’s Department of Home Affairs systems to simplify account verification, which includes the crucial step of liveliness proof. These rails that have been established can be replicated for other products, which further expands Absa’s digital offering well into the future.

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