Talking to Absa about their new ChatBanking on WhatsApp platform

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Absa wants to the pioneer of conversational banking here in South Africa, and its new ChatBanking on WhatsApp platform will enable them to do so.

This was the overriding message I was left with following Absa’s media event in Johannesburg this morning.

The bank held an event at its Experience space in Rosebank, explaining its vision and unpacking some of the features that the latest pillar in its ChatBanking trio of platforms will deliver.

With the bank recently rebranding following its split with Barclays, and trying to tap into a more digitally engaged customer, we sat down with Aupa Monyatsi, chief executive of virtual channels at Absa, to find out how ChatBanking on WhatsApp will enable them to do so. Following Absa’s rebrand last month, ChatBanking on WhatsApp was available to some degree. What makes today’s “official” launch different?

Aupa Monyatsi: Well different iterations of the ChatBanking app have been available for the past year or so. During the rebranding it went out to the public, but there was still some testing going on.

This version of the application though is the first step of a thousand more to come.

Today we’re only launching it with some basic capability. But the intention is to keep building as customers give us feedback.

At this stage we’re not sure what the new elements of future builds will be, but we know that it will be driven by what customers tell us they want.

We want to continue to listen, and as we listen, we want to carry on deploying. You mention customer feedback. Have you received any at this early stage of the process, and if so has it made its way into the current build?

Aupa Monyatsi: Yes we have.

As one of the slides during our presentation showed, 54 percent of users accessed the financial report from ChatBanking on WhatsApp on the first day it was available.

This tells us that customers are looking for proper financial advice embedded within the chat.

Therefore part of what we’ll then be looking to do is saying how can we respond to that ask?

This is something that our team of developers are working on as we speak.

There are also other features and capabilities that have been requested, such as being able to open an account via WhatsApp. Those are the kinds of things we’re listening too and working on for ChatBanking on WhatsApp.

What’s important to note though, is asking whether any solutions we’re working on is being created for the correct channel from a usability and security standpoint. You mentioned ChatBanking on WhatsApp already has 10 000 users. Does Absa have any targets in terms of user numbers for the service’s first few months?

Aupa Monyatsi: No. That’s something that I try to dissuade the team from chasing too aggressively.

I’d rather they pursue the quality of the interaction inside the channel than the quantity of people downloading it.

My target is not to get more sign ups, but rather finding out how to get our customers to spend more time on the platform.

If we see a 35 percent increase for example on people spending time on WhatsApp because of ChatBanking, then that’s success in my view.

That will create the virality needed. That virality in digital and platform businesses is born by people inviting others into their reality, and not simply focusing on above the line marketing and billboards.

That kind of worldview should be driven by the quality of ChatBanking. The Absa banking app is one of the best on the market. Why go the WhatsApp route when it comes to chat and not build those functions into the existing app?

Aupa Monyatsi: It was really motivated by putting customers at the centre of what we do.

Our customers are telling us that they naturally spend time on chat-based applications like WhatsApp.

They don’t want to have to log out to go into another app and do banking and switch between the two while I’m trying to chat to my friend. They want to be able to buy movie tickets along with all their friends in the same chat group.

Our customers want the ease of access to our services within their natural habitats, and this is why we chaise to develop ChatBanking on WhatsApp. Lastly, following the rebranding and Absa’s efforts in digital, what happens to your older or more traditional customers? 

Aupa Monyatsi: Well we’re building a completely omni-channel platform.

As we invest in emerging channels, we’re also making sure that our traditional service channels are robust and they perform efficiently.

For instance we have an extremely solid relationship banking model that we’re continuing to invest in, whether it’s private assist on virtual banking or legacy systems like telephone banking, so we’re still solving issues for those customers.

The fact that we are digitising our experiences for specific channels, does not mean that we forget about the more traditional channels.


[Image – Absa]


Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.