Toma Imirhe and Elorm Desewu examine how one of the latest banks to enter the Ghanaian market is taking a profoundly different approach which stands to change the very nature of bank-customer relationships in the country.
Every bank claims to be different from its counterparts but, in truth, few really are. Finally however, a new generation bank has arrived in Ghana that actually thinks and operates differently from the rest. Quite simply, First National Bank is set to change the landscape of banking in Ghana.
First National Bank's convenient and secure digital banking channels are raising the standards to unprecedented levels in this country.
To be sure most banks have some form of digital banking offering in Ghana but the big differentiator for First National Bank is that it places digital banking at the core of its business whereas its older counterparts offer digital banking as an extension of the traditional banking model they have offered for years. At First National Bank, traditional banking delivery channels are merely an additional means for customers to receive their financial products and services.
This means First National Bank's customers can do their financial transactions almost entirely from the comfort of their homes or offices, no matter how sophisticated those transactions are, simply using their laptops or their mobile phones. Indeed the strong penetration rate of mobile telephony in Ghana, and to a lesser extent, movable laptop computers, has set the foundation for First National Bank to offer digital banking to just about everybody. It certainly has extended First National Bank's reach well beyond its branch network.
"When we launched First National Bank we took the approach of driving a mobile first strategy" explains Richard Hudson, the Chief Executive of the bank. "We understood that customers are likely to own and use mobile devices so we had to give them access to banking on these devices, thereby placing customer convenience first."
This fits in perfectly with the bank's overall strategy of being first and foremost a transactionary bank, offering the most convenient medium for customers to execute their financial transactions, and then providing financial intermediation for those customers who are in need.
Using digital, rather than traditional, banking to do this offers customers a whole new world of convenience. Importantly, customers have complete control over their accounts and have real time, online information about their accounts at their fingertips, 24 hours a day.
"We place great emphasis on introducing innovative solutions that directly meet our customers' needs," asserts Richard Hudson, "whether it's providing cutting edge mobile payments solutions or enabling customers to use the self-service channels. Our online banking platform and mobile banking app offers, we believe, the best of experiences in Ghana."
All this is achieved by deploying a range of innovative features and products that are available to all customers in Ghana.
For instance, there is the Geo Payment function which allows for payments between different accounts held with the bank within a five kilometer radius, using only the geographical location of one's phone. No account details are needed and this is available on both the App and online banking.
In addition, the digital channels offer clients the ability to pay third party beneficiaries to any other bank in Ghana. GhIPPS Instant Pay is also enabled on the app and online.The scheduled payments function allows customers to schedule regular payments well in advance. The transfer function allows for the immediate transfer of funds between a customer's various accounts. There is also a global payments function which allows clients to initiate payments to external beneficiaries via SWIFT.
First National Bank's card management function gives customers the ability to activate and cancel cards themselves. Another function, for prepaid airtime purchases, allows for airtime purchases for all mobile networks in Ghana.
Customers are enabled to remain in full control of their accounts through the InContact feature both online and on the app. Real time notifications are sent to customer by SMS or email, any time a transaction, within pre-determined parameters, occurs on the account. The statements and transaction history function allows customers to view their daily transactions and request monthly statements free for up to 90 days.
In addition the 'manage limits' function allows customers to increase or decrease their daily or monthly payment limits thereby ensuring that the customer remains in full control of their finances.
Combined, all these digital banking products and services cover almost the entire array of transaction needs of customers with the exception of securing cash directly from one's account. However, First National Bank is not only deploying ATMs at its branches but is also deploying them at an array of strategic third party locations including major retail shopping outlets and key fuel stations in the city.
"Digital migration and innovation are central to First National Bank's strategy" asserts Richard Hudson. "We pride ourselves on our ability to solve customer angst through efficient and cost-effective digital solutions."
Instructively, First National Bank's digital banking applications are extremely popular in South Africa and across the continent, where the Bank is represented through various subsidiaries. Indeed they have won several awards for their digital and electronic banking offerings - evidencing the quality of their offerings and superiority over competing products.
First National Bank's excellent and secure digital product offerings will hopefully, over time, go some way towards breaking down the reluctance to embrace digital banking in Ghana especially at the lower end of the market.
Importantly though, with digital banking being central to its product and service offering, First National Bank utilizes cyber security - its firewalls are all but impregnable. Verification of user name, password or fingerprints are required when accessing digital banking. Beyond the security of customer accounts in general, a one-time pin is sent to a customer's phone or email which must be used before new, or 'out of the ordinary', digital financial transaction can be approved, giving customers peace of mind that their funds are safe at the bank.
While First National Bank has established several layers of cyber security for its digital banking customers, the customers themselves need to play a simple, but crucial role in ensuring their own security. "Our customers need to be vigilant and protect personal banking information such as username, password, card and PIN details," warns Hudson. "As a result we are also investing in customer education to ensure that our customers have the necessary information to safeguard their transactions. We urge all customers to keep up to date with the latest cyber scams and the measures that they need to take to ensure that their accounts are not compromised, all of which are available in the Security Centre of First National Bank's website."
Savings is a big feature on the bank's digital banking platforms. "The feature known as Bank Your Change (BYC) provides an opportunity for our customers to save money (as they spend). As a client you can you can instruct the bank to round each purchase value up to the nearest cedi and transfer the difference between the purchase amount and that amount debited into a linked Savings Pocket Account, which earns good interest. This makes savings painless, very simple and easy and it is surprising how quickly these amounts build up to something significant" Mr. Hudson explained.
"At First National Bank we believe that digital migration is the future, mainly due to changing customer needs but also due to the convergence of banking and mobile," says Hudson. "We will continue to empower our customers with functionalities to bank digitally, in line with their changing needs." The digital revolution is inevitable and everyone will be enjoying the benefits of this for many years to come.