Mzansi hits one million

For those who cannot afford formal banking services, advertising slogans like “Simpler, Better, Faster” or “How can we help you?” mean nothing. Eight months ago, this changed when the banking industry embraced the mass market, launching Mzansi, a new low-cost banking service.

Finally, there was competition for informal “banks” such as porcelain piggies, old socks and mattresses, as people were able to enter big name banks such as Absa, FNB, Standard Bank and Nedbank for the first time to open an account.

Since the launch, a million clients have signed up for a Mzansi card that gives them access to hassle-free banking, dispenses with the need to provide payslips and offers services such as a debit card. Banks offering the Mzansi option are now signing up to 6 000 new clients each day.

Forty-year-old Bheki Mthembu works as a contract plasterer and earns about R910 a week. He does not have a permanent job, a factor which previously precluded him from opening a bank account.

Earlier this year he approached Standard Bank to enquire about opening a Mzansi account. Mthembu says the account allows him to purchase goods using his card instead of carrying cash, and he can withdraw money from any Mzansi-participating bank at no extra charge. He says having the card means he no longer has to have money lying around the house and praises the low cost of the service.

The managing director of the Banking Association of South Africa, Cas Coovadia, said Mzansi was a “stepping stone towards the banking industry” for those who could not afford mainstream banking. “It is a simple savings instrument and entry requirements are minimal.”

He said the launch of the account generally went smoothly. “During the initial stages there was lack of adequate communication to the front-line staff, but nothing major.”

Mzansi is planning an extension of its services to include a transaction, similar to a postal money order, allowing the transfer of money from one person to another in rural or urban areas, even if neither person has a bank account.

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